Vaccination Wars (Unreported World)

Some papers have run campaigns calling for a boycott of polio vaccine

Some papers have run campaigns calling for a boycott of polio vaccine

Broadcaster: Channel 4

Year: 2015

Genre: Documentary


In most countries of the world, polio has been tamed by effective vaccination. The disease is only endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. This 24 minute programme looks at the activities of the vaccination teams in Pakistan who continue in their drive to immunise the nation’s children. In 2011 the CIA pretended to be a vaccination team to search for Osama Bin Laden, and this is one factor contributing to growing resistance. Lies about the manufacture and harmful side effects of the vaccine are pedalled. The Taliban vociferously oppose the vaccination programme and some of the team have been murdered (four were shot during the time the programme was being filmed).

In the face of these threats, the vaccineers have had to adapt their methods – including boarding trains as they wait for a few minutes at a station with the hope of vaccinating all children aboard. This in itself may not be enough, children need at least five doses of the vaccine to be protected, but they will treat who they can, when they can.

In other drives, the team go house-to-house, including in areas where there is open hostility. For this they receive pay of £1.50 per day. Frequently their offers to vaccinate children are rejected.

An interesting ethical quandary occurs 12 minutes into the episode. Finding some children home in the absence of their parents, the team go in and give the vaccine to a baby before trying, unsuccessfully, to bribe another boy to come out of hiding under a sofa to receive treatment.

Also of particular note, a section starting at 15:30, in which one of the team (who himself has a withered leg due to polio) tries to persuade some serial refusers to let their families be vaccinated. He has some success.

At 18:00 there is an interview with a hard-line Muslim who teachers other women in her charge to refuse the vaccine for their children. She claims that the vaccine contains aborted foetal tissue and alcohol. The programme of vaccination is seen as a foreign attack on Pakistani children. It is therefore legitimate, she argues, to kill the workers. Another woman was put off giving the polio vaccine to her daughters because other family members believed the medicine would make them infertile.

There is limited explanation of the science of vaccination here. However the programme gives an interesting insight into the sociopolitical context into which the science must fit. Significant sections of the programme requires the viewer to read translation subheadings, making it inappropriate to show in a class setting.


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