Samoa measles outbreak: households fly crimson flags to request vaccinations

Grant Boone
December 5, 2019

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi this week said vaccination was the only answer to the epidemic.

According to RNZ, the measles outbreak in the Pacific is believed to have originated in New Zealand, but has now affected other countries, including in Fiji and Tonga.

Immunisation rates in Samoa dropped to just over 30 percent before the outbreak, well below accepted best practice of around 90 percent, making the island nation extremely vulnerable to infection.

Assisting with MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) immunisations compulsory since mid-November are medics sent by nations including New Zealand, Australia, Britain and the US.

There are more than 4,200 reported cases of measles in the country, out of a total population of 200,000.

Figures from the World Health Organisation and UNICEF indicate that fewer than 30 percent of Samoan infants were immunised past year. The two nurses involved in the incident pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were subsequently jailed.

"Every child that arrives is well-known to people across the hospital, or to the community that's involved with their care", Abby Trewin from the Australian National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre told the ABC.

Most of the dead are children, with 52 aged four or under.

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So far this year 329 people have died on NSW roads, compared with 354 people for all of 2018, according to official statistics. The government of New South Wales state is setting up cameras specifically made for catching drivers using mobile phones .

The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked when the epidemic occurred last month, is a desperate attempt to stop the spread of highly infectious disease.

That low rate was exacerbated by a medical mishap that killed two babies who were administered a vaccine that had been incorrectly mixed, causing wider delays and distrust in the vaccination programme.

In the last 24 hours a further 165 cases have also been confirmed by the Ministry of Health.

The WHO has set a target of wiping out measles from most of the world by next year.

The public was often surprised "when we see how fatal it can be", said Hagan.

The WHO had observed a "slide back" with "outbreaks happening all over the world", alluding also to parents who shun vaccinations because of philosophical and religious concerns.

Increased access to vaccines over the past 20 years was estimated to have saved 21 million lives, Hagan stated.

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