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A Pakistani health worker administers polio vaccine drops to school children during a polio campaign. Photo: ARIF ALI / AFP / Getty Images

In recent years, polio cases were 73% more common in areas of Pakistan experiencing insecurity from conflict, and vaccination rates were about 5% lower during those periods, according to a new study.

Why it matters: Pakistan is one of only three countries that hasn't eradicated the virus, and insecurity is often cited as a reason.

"[B]ut the science to support this claim was surprisingly weak," study author Amol Verma from the University of Toronto tells Axios. "Our study provides strong scientific evidence that insecurity is an important obstacle to polio eradication in Pakistan, which is one of the last reservoirs of polio in the world."

What's happening: The poliovirus was deemed a "public health emergency of international concern" by the World Health Organization. There were just 8 reported cases in Pakistan last year but the virus is still being detected in the environment.

The study: Researchers examined monthly data on the incidence of polio in 32 districts in northwest Pakistan from 2007 to 2014 — and the rate of vaccination from 2007 to 2009 — and compared it to terrorist attacks and other conflict-related event statistics. Their findings:

1. One of the primary factors linking reduced vaccination rates and insecurity is restricted access for health workers administering vaccinations.

2. Districts are not "uniformly secure or insecure," they write; the high and low insecurity that vaccination campaigns encounter can fluctuate. But per the study, campaigns in the midst of high insecurity have 5.3% lower vaccination rates than those during what were considered secure periods.

“Even though it’s only a 5 percent reduction in vaccination rates, that is enough to allow the virus to continue to be circulated and transmitted.”
— Verma told Voice of America

3. Insecurity can have lasting effects. The researchers note that "vaccination rates were reduced in campaigns up to 12 [months] after security incidents."

The limitations: The researchers studied incidents by district, and the last census of the area was taken in 1998. A supplementary analysis was done using the government's 2013 population projection and the researchers report the "main findings were unchanged."

  • Additionally, the study didn't look at targeted attacks on public health workers trying to vaccinate children. The researchers wrote that while reports including this data exist, they're so far unreliable.

Go deeper

39 mins ago - World

South Africa says it's being "punished" for detecting new COVID variant

South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly on September 22, 2021 in New York City. Photo: Eduardo Munoz - Pool/Getty Images)

South Africa said Saturday it's being "punished" for detecting the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries rush to enact travel bans and restrictions.

Driving the news: The U.S. imposed air travel restrictions from eight countries Friday in response to the Omicron variant. Countries in Europe and Asia have also implemented their own travel restrictions in response to Omicron.

Trump can't quit mainstream media

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Bob Woodward and Robert Costa issued a rebuttal on Friday to a statement by former President Donald Trump that misrepresented their reporting — and once again showed the 45th president's thin skin about mainstream media.

Driving the news: "Former President Trump said ... our book, 'Peril,' implied that he was planning to go to war with China," the statement begins. "[W]e report that Chairman of Joint Chiefs Mark Milley 'believed that Trump did not want a war' before or after the 2020 election."

NY declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron COVID variant

Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement about a new plan transforming Penn Station on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 cases and the newly-identified Omicron variant of the virus.

Driving the news: The declaration enables the state to acquire supplies to fight a potential surge in cases, increase hospital capacity and combat potential staff shortages, NBC's local affiliate reports.