Misinformation and false campaigns can inflict long-standing damage upon the fabric of our society, which ultimately culminates into situations like the one we witnessed in Peshawar yesterday. A decade-long virulent campaign against polio vaccines showed its face when angry residents set fire to a basic health unit, and held polio workers hostage for some time. Due to fear-mongering against the polio vaccines campaign which is being conducted throughout the province, panic spread across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with hundreds of children being brought to the hospital with complaints of illness. Despite doctors explaining that most of the symptoms were psychological and not side-effects of the vaccine, fake news continued to target the vaccine campaign, with false announcements that hundreds of children had died.

Across the world, vaccinations have been a favourite target of conspiracy theorists. In Pakistan, the polio vaccination has been particularly maligned and spread misinformation about. Suspicion about the vaccine is unfortunately prevalent in the Northern and Frontier areas, due to rumours spread by obscurantist elements and militants in the area that certain hormones were deliberately added to the OPV to make Muslim children sterile.

Not only does this smearing of the polio campaign place polio workers and health facilities in danger, it puts a large part of Pakistan’s population at risk of the extremely harmful disease of polio. Polio is infectious- meaning a case of vaccination resistance in one small village can affect the whole province. Pakistan is one of the three remaining countries in the world where poliomyelitis is still categorized as an endemic viral infection. The perpetrators of this false campaign should be taken strict action against to set a strong example, considering the nefarious damage their misinformation can lead to.

It is an appeal to parents everywhere. Put your faith in science and have your children vaccinated. Polio can be a life-crippling disease which may lead to complete paralysis of the body. It is also easily preventable. The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) has tested the vaccine and certified that it is Halal, and thousands of medical papers and experiments have concluded it safe and effective. The recent bout of perceived “side-effects” has been investigated by the KP Health Ministry who have found that it was nothing in panic. The various videos released which show adults ordering children to pretend-faint clue into the ill-intentioned and untruthful nature of this panic. Do not risk your children’s health at the expense of charlatans producing propaganda out of ignorance or ulterior motives.