The government of Pakistan's Punjab region has a new weapon up its sleeve in the fight against vaccine hesitancy: blocking the mobile service of anyone who refuses to get jabbed.
The move has come at a crucial juncture for Punjab's vaccine rollout, with shots now available to those over the age of 18.
Vaccine hesitancy is a major concern for the Pakistani government. The results of one Gallup survey published in March of this year showed 19 per cent of Pakistani health professionals would not take up the jab if offered [PDF].
When looking at the wider public, the number of people who say they would not accept a jab jumps to nearly 30 per cent, according to a survey fielded between December 2020 and January 2021.
According to research from academics in Spain and the UK, this reluctance has been fuelled partially by an incident where the CIA used a hepatitis B vaccine drive in its search for Osama bin Laden. The operation sought to obtain DNA samples from infants in order to find a genetic match with the fugitive terrorist leader.
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According to the study, this led to a massive drop in vaccine uptake within regions with a tendency for religious conservatism. In the areas studied, vaccination rates for polio declined by 28 per cent, with a 39 drop in measles jabs administered.
As is the case everywhere else in the world, the phenomenon of fake news has also contributed to this widespread hesitancy, with social media and WhatsApp regular conduits for misinformation.
By threatening to block mobile access, the Punjabi government has effectively threatened to disconnect people from the internet, and thus massively disrupt their day-to-day lives. Traditional PC ownership in Pakistan is relatively low, according to a 2018 survey, with most people connecting via smartphones and feature phones.
Pakistan requires all SIM/IMEI based devices (dongle, mobile phones, smart watches, tablets etc) to be registered upon purchase [PDF].
Authorities in the US have attempted to increase vaccination rates by offering a variety of incentives, from entrants into statewide lotteries with million-dollar prizes, to free beer.
Here in the UK, the sole incentive to get the jab is a reprieve from pandemic lockdown life. Given the relatively high uptake levels, it's clear most Brits regard a slightly sore arm as a price worth paying for a return to "normality".
The Register has contacted the Punjab regional government to ascertain how it intends to put this new rule into practice, and whether it plans to introduce legislation that would enshrine it into law. ®