Mistrust towards the CIA, Bin Laden and vaccines

2024/06/01 Etxebeste Aduriz, Egoitz - Elhuyar Zientzia Iturria: Elhuyar aldizkaria

Ed. Manu Ortega Santos/CC BY-NC-ND

On 2 May 2011, on the outskirts of the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, dozens of elite soldiers entered a residence surrounded by American concrete walls. They killed Osama bin Laden, leader of Al-Qaeda. Two weeks earlier, Dr. Shakil Afridi called the door of the wall, announcing that the children of the house would be vaccinated on the occasion of a hepatitis B campaign.

This vaccination campaign was organized by the U.S. intelligence agency CIA. Last summer, a messenger from Al-Qaeda, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, continued there. They spy by satellite and by a nearby house. And they suspected bin Laden was hiding in that house. But before they started a dangerous operation, they needed another test.

Then they came up with the vaccination campaign. The goal was to know if there were any children in the residence in Bin Laden. To do so, DNA samples would be taken from syringes with which the vaccines would be applied. And those samples, compared to the DNA of Bin Laden's sister, who died in Boston last year, would know if there were Bin Laden's descendants in that house.

CIA agents contacted Pakistani physician Shakil Afridi through which they launched the vaccination campaign. Posters were placed throughout the city and vaccinated in the poorest neighborhood. When Bin Laden came to the house where he was hiding, it is not clear what happened, but most sources point to the failure of the operation and the lack of samples.

It has never been revealed to what extent Afridi knew what the real purpose of this operation was. And there are those who say that all this had a coverage, that is, that Afridi and the vaccination campaign prepared to protect another doctor topo who really got to Bin Laden.

However, what is clear is that this operation influenced Pakistani society and for many years.

Pakistani journalist Saeed Shah published in July 2011 in The Guardian that the CIA used a false vaccination campaign to capture Bin Laden. And this broke with theories and suspicions about vaccines. The Taliban were already opposed to these “Western medicines”. But since the news of this operation, all vaccination campaigns began to connect with CIA activities and American spies.

Attacks on these alleged spies have also been common since then. Between 2012 and 2014, 60 people who were working on these vaccination campaigns were killed. In January 2024, on the first day of the vaccination campaign of 44 million children, a bomb killed 5 policemen supporting the campaign.

This CIA operation raised powders internationally. And in January 2013, in the United States, the deans of 12 public health schools sent a letter to Obama, condemning the use of a vaccination campaign, something so important to public health. In response to this letter, in May 2014 the US Government promised that the CIA would not use further vaccination campaigns for its operations.

The CIA campaign is not the only cause of vaccination problems in Pakistan, as there was already an anti-vaccine attitude. But this certainly reinforces this attitude. Suddenly they had real evidence that behind the vaccines were American spies.

Ed. Manu Ortega Santos/CC BY-NC-ND

This influenced the decrease in immunization rates against various diseases. This was demonstrated by a research paper published in the Journal of the European Economic Association in 2021. This study examined whether 18,795 Pakistani children born between 2010 and 2012 received vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis and measles. And they found that the vaccination rate in areas where the Taliban provision was strong decreased by 23% to 39% more than in less-favoured areas.

In addition, they observed that the vaccination rate decreased more in girls. This could be due to a widespread rumor: vaccines were a Western sterilization strategy for Muslim women.

The effect of the vaccination rate was also analysed and it was found that in areas favourable to the Taliban there were 1.66 times more polio cases.

In fact, the increase in polio cases since then is particularly noteworthy. By the beginning of the century, as in almost everyone, the polio virus was about to disappear in Pakistan, but as of 2012 more and more cases began to appear. In 2014, it reached its peak with 346 cases.

The Pakistani Government has made every effort to change the anti-vaccine attitude and end polio. For example, in 2015 the government stated that the antipolar vaccine was not haram (Islam does not prohibit it) and that it did not have hormones that sterilize children. However, mistrust and rumours about vaccines continue.

Today, the wild polio virus is missing worldwide, except in two countries. Both are together: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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