Hundreds of children in Peshawar, Pakistan were taken to hospitals suffering from nausea and vomiting after receiving the live attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV) on Apr. 22, 2019. The vaccinations were part of a nationwide anti-polio campaign. The incident sparked an attack against a local health facility in Peshawar by angry parents. It also led to violent attacks against health workers in the southwestern town of Chaman and police officers assigned to guard a polio vaccination team in the northwestern part of the country.1 2
Aimed at protecting the 270,000 polio vaccination field workers, Pakistan’s National Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) on Apr. 26 directed all provinces in the country to suspend the polio vaccination campaign “for an indefinite period.” According to the EOC, “[T]he uncertain and threatening situation for the frontline polio workers has emerged and we need to save the program from a further major damage. Hence, no further vaccination or catch-up activity will be conducted in any area for this campaign.”2
The incident at Peshawar has caused about half of the parents and schools in rural areas of Pakistan to refuse to vaccinate children. An estimated 35-40 percent of parents in urban areas of the country have also refused. Health authorities in in the capital city of Islamabad have met to discuss the situation and have decided to try and persuade parents and school administrations to allow the resumption of polio vaccinations. If that fails, then officials have said they would consider legal action against anyone who attempts to block or threaten polio teams from doing their jobs.3
There have been other incidents involving polio vaccinations in Pakistan that have led to increasing distrust between parents and health authorities in recent years. In April 2018, three babies, between the ages of one month and one year old, died in Peshawar after being given the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). According to family members, the health of the children gradually worsened after getting the vaccine.4
In December 2016, two children in the Tehsil Bara area of the Khyber Agency tribal region in Pakistan died “moments” after receiving the OPV and another 11 children fell unconscious after the vaccination. In October 2015, two children died in Punjab and five children became critically ill within hours after getting the OPV.5
1 Ganz J. Hundreds of Pakistani children hospitalized with nausea and vomiting, following polio vaccines. New York Daily News Apr. 22, 2019.
2 Pakistan suspends polio vaccine drive after health worker attacks. DW Akademie.
3 Dawn. Capital’s polio vaccination drive suffers after Peshawar incident. ReliefWeb Apr. 24, 2019.
4 TVR Staff. Three Infants in Pakistan Die After Receiving Polio Vaccine. The Vaccine Reaction May 13, 2018.
5 TVR Staff. Two Children Die After Polio Vaccination, Four in Critical Condition in Pakistan. The Vaccine Reaction Dec. 27, 2016.