Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic.
In this Monday, Feb. 16, 2015 photo, a Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in Peshawar, Pakistan.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan— Hundreds of parents in northwest Pakistan were arrested and jailed on charges of endangering public security after refusing to give their children polio vaccinations, officials said Monday.
Parents targeted by police starting this past weekend were not arrested if they agreed to vaccinate their children, said Shakirullah Khan, a senior police officer in Peshawar.
Pakistani health worker gives polio vaccines to children in the suburbs of Lahore, Pakistan.
Feroz Shah, a spokesman for the district administration in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said 471 people were jailed in the city and surrounding villages under government orders.
Authorities have made scattered arrests in the past for polio refusals, but such widespread arrests are rare.
“This is the first time such drastic action was taken,” Shah said. “This shows determination of the government to eradicate polio.”
Sharjeel, who is paralyzed due to polio, sits in his wheelchair outside his home in Islamabad, Pakistan. While vaccine distrust has sparked debates amid a measles outbreak in the United States, Pakistan is in a deadly battle to wipe out polio. Long eradicated in the West, polio remains endemic in Pakistan after the Taliban banned vaccinations, attacks targeted medical staffers and suspicions lingered about the inoculations.
Pakistan is one of three countries where polio is endemic, and the country last year accounted for the vast majority of reported cases. The disease remains common after the Taliban banned vaccinations and attacked medical workers. Some Pakistanis also are suspicious about vaccinations, fearing it will sterilize their children.
The scope of vaccination drives in Pakistan is impressive. In January, officials targeted about 35 million children in a nationwide campaign while smaller campaigns are held more frequently. Officials have also implemented new security strategies to protect vaccinators.