Samoa's measles epidemic: Death toll rises to 55

Grant Boone
December 3, 2019

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the majority of cases involved those who hadn't been vaccinated.

The Pacific island nation of Samoa will shut down government services for two days so that civil servants can focus on a nationwide immunization drive as the country struggles to end a measles outbreak that has claimed more than 50 lives, a lot of them children.

The Samoan government says the number of measles deaths jumped from 25 to 55 in just over a week, and that most of these were infants. There were 3,728 confirmed cases as of Monday.

"All our schools are closed, national exams have been postponed", said Reverend Vavatau Taufao, general secretary of the Congregation Christian Church in Samoa. The organization has also offered support to the Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat and the Pacific Island Community Health Division. Some 53 people have died as a result of the measles crisis, with 48 of them kids, the government said. It can be deadly, particularly in those with weak or compromised immune systems.

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Since the crisis began in mid-October, there have been 3,728 measles cases, accounting for nearly two percent of the population. 58,000 people have been immunized as part of a mandatory vaccination campaign.

Officials say the anti-vaccination message has resonated in Samoa because of a case previous year when two babies died after receiving measles immunisation shots.

Infection rates and deaths are still, however, climbing quickly with five fatalities in the past 24 hours, according to government data, prompting emergency restrictions on public gatherings and travel leading up to Christmas. It was eventually determined that a completely different medication, improperly administered, had caused the deaths of the children, but by that point, many children had already gone unvaccinated and parents remained fearful.

A New Zealand journalist, Michael Field, who has an written a book on Samoa, called the paper "nasty and cruel".

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