Opposition to vaccines in Pakistan has grown after the CIA organised a fake hepatitis B inoculation drive to help track down Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad a decade ago.

A health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a polio vaccination campaign at a slum area in Karachi on June 7, 2021.
A health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a polio vaccination campaign at a slum area in Karachi on June 7, 2021. (AFP)

Two policemen have been shot dead while escorting a polio vaccination team in northwestern Pakistan, the second such attack this year.

Healthcare workers flanked by a security detail were going door-to-door in a village near the city of Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, when they came under attack.

Polio has been eradicated across the world apart from in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where distrust of vaccines and vaccination teams is rife.

"Two attackers came on a motorcycle and one of them shot at the policemen, both of whom died at the scene," district police officer Zahid Ullah said.

A second police official, Omar Ali, confirmed the toll.

"The women polio workers were inside the home to administer the polio drops when they shot the policemen," Ali said.

READ MORE: Pakistan rolls out locally produced CanSino vaccine

Growing suspicion of vaccines

No group has claimed responsibility for the incident, but conservative opposition to vaccines has grown in Pakistan since the CIA organised a fake inoculation drive that helped track down Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in the province a decade ago.

Healthcare teams must also battle against conspiracy theories that vaccines are a Western plot aimed at sterilising Muslim children.

In January, a policeman was killed in a similar drive-by shooting in the province, while in March, gunmen killed three women involved in a polio immunisation programme across the border.

The latest weeklong polio effort in Pakistan aims to vaccinate more than 33 million children under the age of five with the help of around 260,000 frontline workers.

The country of 220 million has so far only reported one polio case this year, but the number soared to 147 in 2019 before dropping to 84 last year.

READ MORE: Blast in southwest Pakistan hotel leaves several dead

Source: AFP