PESHAWAR  - Police have arrested around 471 parents for refusing polio vaccination to their children in the surrounding areas of Peshawar.

More arrests would also be made as warrants have been issued for those who are still refusing polio vaccination to their children, police said.

Amid tight security arrangements, the Health Department with the support of the district administration launched a two-day ‘Sehat Ka Ittehad’ programme on Monday to immunise children against polio and eight other diseases.

The district administration has imposed section 144 to ban pillion riding during these days. Police have been directed to remain vigilant to thwart any subversive attack against polio workers as the city has already witnessed several attacks on polio vaccination teams.

During these two days, around 2.7 million children under the age of five years in 21 districts of the province will be vaccinated against polio. According to details issued from the Polio Emergency Operation Centre, Health Department Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a total of 8,157 teams including 7,168 mobile teams, 717 fixed teams and 272 transit teams have been deputed to achieve the set target of the second round.

The campaign will cover all union councils and Afghan refugee camps of Bannu, Charsadda, DI Khan, Hangu, Lakki Marwat, Mardan, Peshawar and Tank while only selected union councils with high risk will be targeted in the rest of the districts.

Agencies add: Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic but years of efforts to stamp it out have been badly hit by reluctance from parents, opposition from militants and attacks on immunisation teams.

The virus is most prevalent in the country’s restive northwest and a fresh immunisation drive began on Monday aimed at vaccinating more than 2.7 million children in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The government declared “war” on polio last year.

“There is no mercy, we have decided to deal with the refusal cases with iron hands. Anyone who refuses (the vaccine) will be sent to jail,” Riaz Khan Mehsud, deputy commissioner of Peshawar, said. Those arrested on Monday were from suburban areas of Peshawar where militant groups regularly attack police and polio workers and where opposition to vaccination is relatively strong. Mehsud said authorities have issued 1,000 blank arrest warrants so that refusals could be dealt with swiftly.

Muhammad Mumtaz, another senior official, confirmed the arrests and told a news agency that the detainees would “be freed only after a written assurance and providing two guarantors” to ensure their children get the drops. Taliban militants claim that the polio vaccination drive is a front for espionage or a conspiracy to sterilise Muslims. They stepped up their attacks after a Pakistani doctor was recruited by the CIA to set up a hepatitis immunisation drive as part of efforts to track down Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden. Last year, the number of polio cases recorded in Pakistan soared to 306, the highest in 14 years. At least nine new cases have so far been detected in 2015.

Meanwhile, the scheduled polio campaign in Quetta was postponed owing to lack of security for vaccination teams on Monday.

The second phase of the vaccination drive was scheduled to be launched in Quetta in order to administer polio drops to children below the age of five.

Sources in the Balochistan Health Department said that the provincial administration had failed to provide timely security to polio vaccination teams in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan.

“Without security guards, we cannot move our teams in the city,” he said.

Security of polio teams have been tightened in the aftermath of attacks at polio team in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan.

Militants had killed a polio worker and driver of polio team in custody last month in Zhob district of Balochistan.

Up till now, two polio cases have been reported from Killa Abdullah and Chagai districts of Balochistan during the year 2015.

The provincial government of Balochistan has declared an emergency in Quetta and other high-risk districts of the province to eradicate the paralysing disease and for this purpose emergency drives are being launched.

Pakistan’s first case of polio virus for the year 2015 was reported from Balochistan’s Chagai district on Jan 1.

During the year 2014, a total of 23 polio cases were reported from Balochistan. Most of the cases were reported from Balochistan’s Killa Abdullah, Pishin and Quetta districts.