Samoa shuts schools, declares emergency as measles kills 6

Grant Boone
November 21, 2019

After initially facing criticism for its slow response, the government had opened a national emergency operations centre to roll out mass vaccinations.

The epidemic has come as the immunization rate against measles has plummeted in Samoa in the years since a medical mistake led to the deaths of two infants and spurred widespread mistrust of vaccinations.

The Samoan government closed schools indefinitely Monday as it attempts to quell a measles epidemic that has killed at least six people and hospitalized dozens more.

UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Health and WHO in Samoa to target children six months to 19 years of age and women who are not pregnant between 20-35 years. They counted 716 measles cases reported, with almost 100 people still hospitalized including 15 in intensive care.

"In Samoa, the proportion of people who are immune to measles is very, very low, one of the lowest in the world", she told AFP. Vaccination rates are low - around 30% - however officials are now mandating vaccines for all 200,000 residents.

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According to Reuters Samoa's director general of health, Leausa Take Naseri, expects the epidemic to get worse before it improves because of poor immunisation rates. He said that only about two-thirds of Samoans had been vaccinated, leaving the others vulnerable to the virus. The second child died last Saturday.

But figures from the World Health Organization and UNICEF indicate that measles immunization rates among Samoan infants have fallen steeply from over 70% in 2013 to under 30% past year.

Ardern acknowledged Samoan authorities have faith the outbreak used to be started by a traveler from New Zealand.

New Zealand is sending medical staff, vaccines and supplies to Samoa. 'But we glimpse our responsibility as supporting Samoa as they contend with the outbreak, and we're doing that actively'. She acknowledged New Zealand has for years identified it has immunity gaps. By contrast, in Fiji, Tonga and American Samoa, where outbreaks have also been reported, about 90 percent of children have been immunized.

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