Hawaii medical community rallies around Samoa in wake of measles outbreak

As Samoa remains in a state of national emergency due to a deadly measles outbreak, volunteer teams have descended on the island help conduct a mass vaccination campaign. 

With the outbreak spiraling out of control — 62 fatalities have been reported thus far — the trip was quickly set into motion by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Honolulu Civil Beat reported that an emergency specialist from the WHO reached out directly to Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green asking if he could send an immunization team to Samoa for a mass campaign. 


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Green then reached out to the Hawaii medical community for support. Queen’s Medical Systems’s COO Jason Chang organized the trip on their end.   

Queen’s was approached by the Lt Governor who initially wanted to send supplies and equipment to help the caregivers in Samoa who are overwhelmed by the number of patients. As we learned more, we realized that a medical mission to provide acute support and also help immunize the country would be more beneficial. The Minister of Health agreed to shut down the country if we could send enough support. We were fortunate to have hundreds of volunteers step forward from Queen’s and ultimately were able to coordinate 76 volunteers who could travel on such short notice,” said Chang.

Hawaii Pacific Health and Kaiser joined Queen’s in sending volunteers to Samoa.

After arriving on the island this week, The volunteers immunized hundreds of people. With the government instituting a twelve-hour daytime curfew and prohibiting road travel except for emergency services, volunteers are moving quickly to vaccinate as many people as possible. The campaign marks an abrupt end to a downward slide in vaccination rates on the island since 2013.    

When asked what makes the situation in Samoa particularly challenging, Chang pointed to the inability of the Samoan health system to deal with the sheer scale of the outbreak: 

“The biggest challenge is that the Samoan health system (hospitals) are already overwhelmed. There are too many patients who are just too sick…particularly children. Caregivers naturally want to help the sick, but immunization is so important in slowing down this disease. Broad immunization can prevent the spread of disease and it’s important for all ages to be vaccinated.”

The team will continue the vaccination campaign today. Lt. Gov. Green has signaled that Hawaii remains committed to helping ameliorate the situation:    

“It should be an extraordinary experience because this is a demonstration of people pulling together internationally, but specifically from the state of Hawaii.”