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Vaccinations compulsory as Samoa’s measles epidemic continues to rage


Amanda Lyons


26/11/2019 2:52:05 PM

More than 2000 thousand cases – and dozens of deaths – have been confirmed.

Child being vaccinated
The Samoan Government has now declared vaccinations compulsory under law, and issued public warnings to those discouraging people from receiving them. (Image: AAP)

The death toll from the epidemic, described last week by a leading vaccinologist as ‘a wildfire that is burning now out of control,’ has now reached 32.
 
Most of the deaths – 28 – have occurred in children under four years old, with a median age of 13 months.
 
Meanwhile, the total number of cases reported to the Samoan Ministry of Health has reached 2347, and with 243 of these recorded in the last 24 hours, the epidemic shows no signs yet of slowing among the island nation’s total population of 200,000.
 
The Samoan Government has now declared vaccinations compulsory under law, and issued public warnings to those discouraging people from receiving them.
 
Vaccinologist Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said it is important for Samoa to boost its levels of vaccination to prevent or ameliorate further outbreaks in the future.
 
‘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.
 
‘So if they aren’t able to improve that, this is going to happen again.’
 
Hospitals on the island are struggling to cope with the influx of patients admitted with the disease.
 
‘These hospitals are not designed to deal with this,’ Dr Scott Wilson told Newshub. ‘The minute you get hospitals running at 200–300% capacity – I think it speaks for itself.
 
‘It’s incredibly serious.’
 
The country’s vaccination rates plunged to less than 30% following the deaths of two children who received the MMR vaccine last year.
 
The deaths were caused by human error in administration of the vaccines, but Dr Petousis-Harris told newsGP last week this may not have been widely understood by the public.
 
‘The reasons for the deaths of the infants last year were not communicated, leaving people to assume it was the MMR vaccine that caused the deaths,’ she said.
 
‘The level of trust and confidence in the health system and vaccination program is understandably very low. Trust needs to be gained and then maintained, and this will take time and commitment.’
 
There has been some criticism of the Samoan Government’s slow response to the epidemic, which was first announced in October. The nation declared a state of emergency by mid-November, closing all schools and ordering all children under the age of 17 not to attend public gatherings.
 
Neighbouring countries in the Pacific are also experiencing their own measles outbreaks, although of a smaller scale due to higher vaccination rates.
 
Fiji has 13 confirmed cases and no deaths, but is experiencing a shortage of vaccination supplies; Tonga announced the closure of government primary schools and kindergartens until later this month, as its number of cases approached 200; and American Samoa has declared a public health emergency, requiring proof of vaccination from Tongan and Samoan travellers.

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Dr Nell De Graaf   28/11/2019 9:26:51 PM

I wonder how many antibaccers will go there with their kids to visit?