Free DP Download 04 May 2021 - IN VACCINES WE TRUST? The Effects of the CIA's Vaccine Ruse on Immunisation in Pakistan

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

IN VACCINES WE TRUST? The Effects of the CIA's Vaccine Ruse on Immunisation in Pakistan
Monica Martinez-Bravo, Andreas Stegmann
CEPR DP No. 15847 February 2021

In July 2011, the Pakistani public learnt that the CIA had used a vaccination campaign as cover to capture Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban leveraged on this information, and launched an anti-vaccine propaganda campaign to discredit vaccines and vaccination workers. Vaccination rates decreased substantially in the aftermath of the incident, with worrying health outcomes.

A new CEPR study by Monica Martinez-Bravo and Andreas Stegmann evaluates how the disclosure of the vaccine ruse and the subsequent anti-vaccine propaganda campaign affected immunisation rates and other forms of health seeking behaviour. Among the findings:  

  • The anti-vaccine propaganda campaign led to accusations against health workers of being CIA agents, and claimed that the polio vaccination campaigns were a conspiracy to sterilise the Muslim population. 
  • Parents in districts with higher support for Islamist groups are likely to have been more exposed to the anti-vaccine propaganda campaign.
  • It is likely that parents with an initial ideological affinity to the Taliban granted greater credibility to their anti-vaccine messages.
  • The disclosure of the vaccine ruse had substantial negative effects on vaccination rates: districts in the 90th percentile of the distribution of Islamist support experienced a decline in vaccination rates between 23% and 39% relative to districts in the 10th percentile of Islamist support.
  • Increase in support for Islamist groups is associated with an increase in cases of polio per district. 
  • The intensity of vaccination activities did not systematically differ across districts with different levels of Islamist support after the disclosure of the vaccine ruse.

These results suggest that information discrediting vaccination campaigns can negatively affect trust in health services and demand for immunization.


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