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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Column: The CIA vaccination sham in Pakistan was abhorrent

The aftermath of the mistake is more relevant than ever

By ALEX MOTAWI — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

Vaccines have been a part of our society for ages, with the first vaccine being given way back in 1796 (for cowpox). That means scientists spent over 200 years establishing the virtues of vaccines and how beneficial they are to society. In those 200 years, we’ve come a long way towards normalizing the use of vaccines and making them widely available, but not everyone is on board yet. It’s not easy to gain the trust of groups that have been historically mistreated by governing bodies. When medical professionals need enough trust to physically inject someone with something that may cause side effects for an ailment that doesn’t affect their day-to-day life(people don’t go walking around thinking about the dangers of measles every day, for example), the challenge is multiplied. 

Scientists have created vaccines for many diseases and have even eradicated some of them (smallpox is one of them, according to the World Health Organization), but the work is far from over. For example, polio was eradicated from the U.S. in 1979, but it still exists in other countries today. Vaccines should be seen as an incredible invention by humanity and something celebrated everywhere. That’s why the fake vaccination program run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was very dangerous and put the lives of many humans in jeopardy.

The CIA set up a fake vaccination program in 2011 giving fake Hepatitis B vaccines to children in Pakistan in order to collect DNA samples and aid in the search for Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden was caught in May 2011, but the scheme proved unhelpful towards the result and eventually reached the public eye, to the detriment of everyone involved. The CIA and the U.S. government had to do damage control and eventually announced the end of fake vaccinations as a military tactic in 2014, but they are the perpetrators, not the victims. The victims are people all across Pakistan that are now unwilling to take vaccines from outsiders — with good reason. After being blindsided by a ploy like that, I would be hesitant too.

Vaccination workers and local police were getting killed trying to spread the polio vaccine in Pakistan as of 2020. The true tragedy is the impact it’s having on the Pakistani people. If it wasn’t for the CIA sham, polio may have been completely eradicated in Pakistan. Instead, polio cases spiked in 2014, going up to 306 cases and leading to Pakistan being one of three countries with polio as a health emergency. Leslie Roberts, an epidemiologist for the World Health Organization, predicted in 2014 that the CIA ploy could postpone the eradication of the virus in Pakistan by 20 years and 100,00 cases. Thankfully Pakistan has only had one case in the past 12 months, but the vaccine distrust caused by the CIA still endangered innocents and made them hesitant to trust not only the polio vaccine but other vaccines as well.

Vaccine trust is a constant battle, and the CIA’s efforts are counterproductive. It’s not a battle only fought in Middle-Eastern countries either. Similar sentiments have sprouted up in the U.S. concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. People of color in the U.S. have been and continue to be systematically mistreated by the medical system. The U.S. and medical researchers have perpetrated similar tragedies that have bred a base level of distrust that needs to be overcome. 

The CIA’s usage of fake vaccines isn’t a small battle that was fought and won years ago. This is something that is still relevant today. While everyone worldwide should be getting lab-proven vaccines to stay healthy, we need to recognize why certain groups choose to abstain and foster a better culture that establishes trust and safety across the world.

Written by: Alex Motawi — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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