In April 2019, a scaremongering video of children becoming
unconscious after being administered polio vaccine in Badaber,Peshawer, appeared
on social media nearly bringing the entire national immunization program to a
grinding halt. Notably the perpetrator was a local school teacher. The video is
a clear manifestation of the prevailing mindset of masses that greatly swaddles
the success of such campaigns in our country.
Before the vaccine fights the virus, it will have to face the people first.
Conspiracy theories against the existence of virus are still rampantlike it’s
manmade virus designed to keep a check on global population, and the government
killing its own people in the name of corona as it brings foreign aids. Our
public is equally skeptic about the vaccine. Many a time such programs have been
labeled as being un-Islamic. Secondly, since vaccine deployment will inevitably
require the government partnering up with WHO, it is likely to be viewed as a
foreign program. Thirdly, the inter-district movement of people might leave a
certain number of people remaining unimmunized. Lastly the requisite technical
wherewithal for deployment to the far-flung areas will be a challenge.
Managerial and coordination issuesat the level of city district government like
shortage of staff, lack of inter-departmental liaison, etc.,could potentially
pose an impediment to the deployment.
Sensitization of public will be a keystone of the immunization program; without
public getting onboard, the policy is not likely to yield dividends. Ulemaand
tribal chieftains hold the power of swaying public opinion; making them an
instrumental, expounding the benefits of vaccination will play a key role.It
will be important to conduct immunization across Pakistan at the same time. A
robust week-long project, on the lines of elections, will have to be conducted.
A presidential directive, ensuring that both public and private sectors make
their employees available for vaccination must be issued. Also, mass transit
between districts and provinces will have to be halted for this period. District
level teams comprising representatives of public health experts, district health
organizations, district management group, partnering agencies like WHOworking
under the army supervision will have to be formulated for a meaningful response.
The inclusion of army will not only help overcome the shortfall in manpower but
will also lend credence to the efficacy of the vaccine itself.
Robin Iqbal, Islamabad