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Mar 2, 11:56 AM EST

Pakistani police arrest hundreds of parents for refusing to vaccinate their kids against polio

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) -- 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.

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."

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.

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