More Samoa residents to get measles vaccinations as immunisation age restrictions lifted

Grant Boone
December 2, 2019

The death toll has been increasing steadily since the country declared a national measles epidemic in mid-October. It's the sixth day the death toll has risen, with children under the age of four making up nearly all but five of the dead.

Measles is a highly contagious virus, but preventable through an immunisation commonly administered twice in childhood.

"The Samoan health system is under serious strain with growing numbers of people, many of whom are very young, needing complex care as a result of the measles outbreak", Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement Friday.

In 2018, only 31% of kids under five had been immunized, she said.

In just over two weeks, the official death toll has jumped more than ten-fold to 53 on Monday, the Samoan government said.

Figures from the World Health Organisation and UNICEF indicate fewer than 30% of Samoan infants were immunised a year ago.

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Samoan authorities have blamed low coverage rates in Samoa in part on fears caused a year ago when two babies died after receiving vaccinations shots, according to local media reports.

For more than a week, roughly 200 new cases have been declared each day.

Apia's main hospital, which usually has just four beds in its intensive care unit, now has 14 kids on ventilators, Norton said, emphasizing that this poses "a huge, huge burden".

Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour said the NZDF was prepared to do everything it could to support the Government's response to the epidemic.

Neighboring New Zealand and a number of other countries and organizations, including the United Nations agency UNICEF, have delivered thousands of vaccines, medical supplies and have sent medical personnel to help with the outbreak.

Norton said Britain was also planning to send a support medical team, computing that World Health Organization has sent out a request to other countries in the region to give medical teams.

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