As three more infants lost their life in Khyber Agency – raising the total death toll to five – after allegedly receiving polio drops, the polio drive has been suspended in Khyber Agency. The tragic incidents were reported from the Bara and Landi Kotal tehsils of Khyber Agency. Health officials responsible for the area claim that teams had been dispatched to the areas immediately to probe the matter. Such incidents can unravel years of hard work and effort to eradicate polio from the country, and should be avoided at all costs so that other parents do not distrust polio workers and more importantly the vaccine.

The bereaved father who lost his four-month old insisted that she started vomiting and breathed her last as soon as the vaccine was administered to her. In doing so he warned the dwellers of Pirokhel to not risk their children’s lives with polio drops if the cause of his daughter’s death was in fact due to the vaccine. The sooner the cause of the infants’ death is ascertained, the sooner the parents’ misgivings will be addressed and progress will not be backtracked. To allow time for the damaging news to spread within the communities will only be detrimental to the cause of eradicating polio in the country.

It is worth mentioning however that two children reportedly died and 11 others fell unconscious last week because of reaction to vaccines during an immunisation campaign in Khyber Agency. The infants were vaccinated against measles and pneumonia and died a few moments after they were given injections. Health officials should prioritise the incident and investigate the cause immediately before further damage. The propaganda against polio vaccination has faded away with the passage of time and due to enhanced awareness the demand for oral polio vaccine (OPV) among parents is increasing, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. We must not allow for such tragic incidents to take this monumental progress backwards.