471 parents from different areas of Peshawar were arrested under the Maintenance of Public Order law this Tuesday. Their crime: refusing to worship the new god of polio-vaccination. Surely, it has to be a god of some sorts if questioning it could get you arrested.
Interestingly, highly paid UNICEF teams of communications officers had failed to convince the parents about the holiness of polio drops and why their children must be baptized with it. Whether misled by maulanas or their own hearts, these polio-deniers or anti-vexxers, whatever you wish to call them, were only exercising their right of informed consent, a foundational principle of modern medicine. What gives a government the right to arrest people for that?
The argument that parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated are endangering other children with infections, infections their unvaccinated children might carry, does not hold. After all, how could the unvaccinated children pose any danger to vaccinated children who are supposed to have become immune to those infections due to vaccination? Isn’t that what vaccination is all about? Clearly, this is a bullying tactic to discipline those who do not trust the vaccines blindly. Besides, the parents arrested in Peshawar are not the only ones with doubts.
More and more parents around the world are coming to understand that the discourse and science around vaccines is not as simple as its proponents would like everyone to believe. They are persuaded by the significant and sound scientific evidence available against vaccines and not the rants of some ignorant maulanas. While vaccines might be good or bad, or some of them might work and others don’t, it is the right of parents to be properly informed about them and the job of the government to inform them without prejudice; not only about what the vaccine manufacturers would like them to know but also about the mounting evidence that vaccines might not be all that safe. At the end of the day, the choice to vaccinate or not is also essentially theirs.
The screaming scare-mongering peddlers of vaccines, newer and newer varieties and combinations of them, would like to drown scientific evidence in a cacophony of pseudo-science. I like to call it pseudo-science because science, by definition, has to be based on all evidence and not selective pieces of it. When science begins to ignore evidence contrary to whatever it is out to prove, the god-like status of vaccines in this case, it stops being science.
More than any contribution to human knowledge, this pseudo-science is driven by the desire to maximize corporate profits by selecting the evidence that suits it and ignoring and even vilifying evidence that goes against its interests. Anyone daring to question the shaky foundation of this pseudo-science is deemed as a caveman out of step with time. Whereas, if you look at it up close, it is this pseudo-science that’s actually out of step with our time as it refuses to incorporate new findings and research into its understanding of nature and human health.
So this gung-ho polio activism by the PTI Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is more than a bit problematic. As it is, it would be foolish to impose any scientific understanding on citizens without their consent. What we know today to be true might turn out to be partially true or totally false tomorrow; such is the journey of science. In the case of vaccines, considering that they are already controversial, coercing parents to administer them to their children is criminal.
To be fair to it, the PTI is not the only party shoving half-baked science down our throats. The entire spectrum of our political leadership seems to have a blind faith in dangerous gods of pseudo-science. Whether it is GMOs or the high-tech agribusiness, pesticides or anti-dengue sprays, trust our leaders to go all gung-ho for these pseudo-scientific solutions before their names are completely uttered. It doesn’t seem to matter that such unsustainable scientific adventurism stands thoroughly discarded today.
The emerging development paradigm, far more modern and scientific than the corporate-driven pseudo-science from the last century, does not discard important evidence and it is built upon a clear understanding of the principles of interconnectedness and sustainability. The world is slowly but surely moving in that direction. Organic produce is valued more than the pesticide-laden genetically-modified monstrosities dished out as food. People are becoming more aware of the limitations of modern medicine and its adverse side effects and turning to natural remedies for many common ailments. The idea is not to throw the worthy contributions of modern medicine like surgery and emergency medicine with the dirty bathwater but to rationalize its application, not to treat it like some unquestionable god that alone has the answers.
We in Pakistan have a head-start when it comes to this emerging development paradigm. With an indigenous farming tradition that has been passed on for centuries, we could teach the world about organic farming rather than being lectured on dubious so-called modern agricultural practices that are being rejected by one developed country after another. There is a wealth of wisdom about human health and natural remedies for human ailments and millions of people find cure from hakims. But whether it is agriculture or health, the governments would rather spend all their money on the wizardry of pseudo-science. Instead of investing in preserving and propagating these time-tested knowledge systems that are being recognized today for being the best practices, our governments are making it harder for small farmers to farm traditionally and for hakims who benefit so many poor neighborhoods. They’re blinded by the glitter of corporate success.
Hours after the arrest of the 471 parents in Peshawar, the richest man in the world called up Imran Khan to pat him on the back for this brilliant performance by his PTI government. Bill Gates also offered to help him eliminate polio from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Lest we forget, he’s the same guy whose vaccination campaign was taken to the Supreme Court in India for unethical testing of new vaccines on unsuspecting students from poor tribes in more than one states.