WASHINGTON – The White House has promised that the United States will not use vaccination programmes as cover for spy operations after the move was attempted during the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
As Pakistan suffers a resurgence of polio, a top White House official pledged in a letter that intelligence agencies would foreswear the tactic, which is partly blamed for the spread of the crippling disease. The deans of 12 public health schools had complained about a reported immunization programme conducted by Dr Shakil Afridi, who used a hepatitis vaccine survey in the Pakistan where Osama was later killed in 2011.
Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said that Obama homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco had assured the deans in a letter that CIA policy as of last August makes clear the CIA will make no operational use of vaccination programmes, which includes vaccination workers. “Similarly, the agency will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programmes,” she said.
Hayden said that this policy applies worldwide, and to US persons and non-US persons alike. The letter by Monaco was first reported by Council on Foreign Relations fellow Laurie Garrett on Twitter and by Yahoo News. Last week, Pakistan announced that residents of the tribal areas would not be able to travel to other parts of the country without getting vaccinated against polio.
The order came days after Pakistan said it would set up mandatory immunization points at airports to help stop its polio outbreak spreading abroad, in response to new guidelines by the World Health Organisation who warned that polio has re-emerged as a public health emergency – with the virus affecting 10 countries worldwide and becoming endemic in three, including Pakistan.
The world body urged infected nation to implement vaccine requirements for all international travel. Some militants violently oppose polio vaccination campaigns, seeing them as a cover for foreign spying and regularly attack immunization teams. Some 56 people have been killed in such incidents since December 2012.