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Global Health Policy Blog


In 2003 the world was on the edge of eradicating polio when a virulent outbreak occurred in the Northern Nigerian state of Kano.  Efforts to contain the outbreak by vaccinating the local population were stymied when imams in the region said that the vaccine program was part of a U.S. plot to sterilize people in developing countries.  Enough people believed these charges to help the outbreak spread: over the next two years, 18 countries once free from polio had outbreaks traceable to Nigeria, Pakistan among them.  In 2007, a few clerics in Pakistan spread similar rumors, leading to a spike in polio cases in that country, according to the WHO.

Stalled progress on global eradication and 1,400 additional children paralyzed in one year alone due in part to a ridiculous and unfounded rumor that the United States was messing around with vaccines.

Yesterday the Guardian reported (ht Chris Albon) claims from the Pakistan’s ISI that the CIA administered vaccines in Abbottabad as part of an secret effort to get a blood sample from Osama Bin Laden’s kids.  The Guardian reported that children in the region received the first dose of a hepatitis B vaccine as part of the program, but not the second and third doses required for immunity.  Today, the New York Times carried the same story, citing U.S. government sources.  Pakistan, meanwhile, is in the midst of another polio outbreak, battling to stamp out the disease by next year as a vital part of the global eradication program.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.