Polio immunization efforts in Lahore in eastern Pakistan are proceeding under armed guard while vaccination efforts in other parts of the country have been shut down because of the murders of nine immunization workers in a coordinated anti-vaccine effort, the Associated Press (AP) reported today.
The number of workers killed has increased in the past two days by three, after six deaths were reported Dec 18. Six of the workers killed have been women, three of them teens, and two others are critically injured, the AP said.
The Taliban has denied responsibility for the deaths in spite of past vocal opposition to polio vaccine efforts. About 6,000 workers were being escorted by 3,000 police officers in a province-led effort in Lahore, even though the United Nations officially suspended its entire Pakistan vaccination campaign yesterday.
Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said the UN vaccination program will not resume until a government investigation is completed, according to an AP story yesterday.
"This is undoubtedly a tragic setback, but the campaign to eradicate polio will and must continue," she said.
The Taliban has accused vaccination workers of being US spies and has claimed that the polio vaccine renders kids sterile. The group also objects to US drone strikes in Pakistan. Opposition grew last year when the CIA faked a hepatitis vaccination campaign to try to obtain DNA from residents of Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad.