Government shutdown in Samoa amid 'cruel' measles outbreak

Henrietta Brewer
December 2, 2019

Kate O'Brien, director of the WHO's immunization department, said in Geneva that "very cheap coverage of measles vaccine" was to blame for the rapid expanse of the highly contagious in the nation.

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

Red Cross New Zealand's Karen Page told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning from Samoa that everyone with a cellphone in the Pacific island nation received the alert between 7 and 7:30am this morning to say that teams are now vaccinating everybody up to the age of 60 - something they hadn't been doing until now. Most of those who have died have been babies and young infants, including 23 babies aged under 12 months and another 25 children aged between 1 and 4 years.

A measles disease in Samoa has killed 39 people, with the World Health Organization (WHO) accusing an anti-vaccine messaging campaign of leaving the Pacific island nation exposed to the spread of the virus.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist at the University of Auckland, said there were pockets of the community where immunisation rates had slipped, allowing the disease to take hold. "Because first of all we were aware of the possibility or the potential for this and that's been the case for a long time".

It resulted in the temporary suspension of the country's immunisation programme and dented parents' trust in the vaccine, even though it later turned out the deaths were caused when other medicines were incorrectly administered.

The government launched a compulsory vaccination program on November 20 after proclaiming a state of emergency due to the outbreak.

The government has closed all schools and banned children from public gatherings.

UNICEF said Thursday it had delivered 300,000 vaccines as well as medical supplies to Samoa, Fiji and Tonga to respond to the outbreaks.

Other reports by iNewsToday