CIA Ruse That Nabbed Bin Laden Cut Vaccination Rates in Pakistan

Researchers estimate the disclosure of the CIA vaccination campaign used to locate bin Laden reduced vaccination rates between 23% and 39% in districts with strong support for an alliance of parties espousing political extremism.

A girl reacts while getting a nasal swab sample at a testing and screening facility for the new coronavirus, in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, Friday, July 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

(CN) — Distrust generated by a CIA vaccination campaign plot in Pakistan to catch Osama Bin Laden produced a steep vaccination rate decline in the world’s fifth most populous country, a new paper finds.

With the assistance of a local doctor, the U.S. Central Intelligence Organization orchestrated a plan to obtain DNA samples of children living in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in an effort to locate Bin Laden, according to the paper published Tuesday in the Journal of the European Economic Association.

American authorities suspected that the presence of close relatives could indicate the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks was nearby, so secretly the doctor administered hepatitis B vaccines to children in the compound where intelligence officials suspected Bin Laden was hiding.

Shortly after U.S. Navy SEALs killed Bin Laden on May 2, 2011, the Guardian published an article revealing the clandestine vaccine project that led to his death.

Even prior to this, extremist groups in Pakistan worked to discredit western medicine and vaccines administered by Pakistani heath authorities, hoping to boost the credibility of rogue groups such as the Taliban.

But after the Guardian revealed the CIA operation, the Taliban — which provided Bin Laden refuge in Afghanistan for years after the 9/11 attacks — increased propaganda efforts against polio, DPT and measles vaccines by issuing religious edicts that linked vaccination campaigns to CIA espionage. The terrorist organization also attacked vaccination workers to discourage local participation.

Only now is the collateral damage of the CIA operation fully understood.

Using data from the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement, researchers estimate the disclosure of the method used to locate Bin Laden reduced vaccination rates between 23% and 39% in districts with strong support for an alliance of parties espousing political extremism. The decline in girls’ vaccination rates was larger than the decline in the vaccination rate of boys, researchers found.

“The empirical evidence highlights that events which cast doubt on the integrity of health workers or vaccines can have severe consequences for the acceptance of health products such as vaccines,” said paper co-author Andreas Stegmann. “This seems particularly relevant today as public acceptance of the new vaccines against Covid-19 is crucial to address the pandemic.”

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