Newswise — The White House, in a letter dated May 16, 2014, has written the deans of the nation’s leading schools of public health, including Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency last summer directed that the Agency make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccinations workers. The letter, signed by Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, also noted that the Agency will not “seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs” and that the CIA policy applies globally to U.S. and non-U.S. persons alike.
“This is incredibly important,” said Dean Klag. “This is the first time, to our knowledge, that the CIA has a policy in place to protect health care workers. We asked the administration to do the right thing, and it did. I commend the CIA for taking this step towards insuring that the safety of health workers around the world, especially those with the mission of protecting children and adults from disease, is not compromised.”
The White House letter is a response to a letter sent by public health deans to President Obama on January 6, 2013, asking the White House to refrain from using health programs in the name of national security. One month earlier, in December 2012, a handful of health care workers in Pakistan, including a teenage girl, were assassinated while trying to give polio vaccines to children living in Karachi. Their deaths were thought to stem from a backlash against vaccine workers going back to 2011, when news of the CIA’s fictional vaccine program in Abbottabad first surfaced. Pakistani authorities responded to the December 2012 violence by temporarily shutting down the polio vaccine drive.
In their original January 6, 2013 letter, the deans wrote, “As public health academic leaders, we hereby urge you to assure the public that this type of practice will not be repeated.” The deans noted, “Independent of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, contaminating humanitarian and public health programs with covert activities threatens the present participants and future potential of much of what we undertake internationally to improve health and provide humanitarian assistance.” The deans recalled efforts by then Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver to get President John F. Kennedy to pledge not to infiltrate the Peace Corps for security purposes.
The January 6, 2013 letter was signed by deans of public health at, in addition to Johns Hopkins, the following institutions: Tulane, Emory, University of Minnesota, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Washington, George Washington University, UCLA, University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of California, Berkeley.