Best of 2011 // 99: CIA Exploits Vaccine Drive

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After the death of Osama Bin Laden in May of 2010, reports emerged alleging the Central Intelligence Agency had held a vaccine drive in Pakistan in an attempt to collect DNA from Bin Laden’s relatives to confirm his whereabouts in Abbottabad, where he was thought to be hiding.

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The CIA never confirmed nor denied the reports, but officials with the World Health Organization and UNICEF expressed their concerns.  Assuming these are just rumours, they could be just as damaging to the CIA as actual involvement, creating mistrust within the population of Pakistan for vaccination efforts – where 150,000 children die annually from vaccine-preventable diseases, such as polio.

In a report from The New York Times and The Washington Post, an anonymous official alleged the CIA has recruited a Pakistani doctor to offer Hepatitis B vaccines for free.  Comparing DNA samples gathered during the vaccine drive with those of Bin Laden’s deceased sister, it was reported the CIA hoped to confirm if Bin Laden’s family lived nearby.

The Times went on to report that the operation failed to collect the DNA.

Dennis King, head of UNICEF’s Polio eradication efforts in Pakistan, began reporting in September that a ‘handful’ of parents had started refusing the vaccine for their children after hearing of the reports – rumours or not – but the current impact seems to be small.  According to King, more parents refuse the Vaccines based on safety concerns and effectiveness worries.

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