Samoan Government scrambles to combat a growing measles outbreak
This afternoon, the Government of Samoa launched what it calls a “Door to Door Mass Vaccination Campaign” to contain a deadly measles epidemic ravaging the island. The effort comes amid an unprecedented national quarantine in which travel will be restricted and curfews will be enforced.
Households needing vaccination have been requested to tie a red cloth or flag in front of their properties, as 150 immunization teams scramble to stop the disease in its tracks.
The government has been periodically releasing reports on social media detailing the outbreak. The government’s December 4th update revealed that 4,217 measles cases have been reported since the outbreak began with 165 recorded in the last 24 hours. 62 measles-related deaths have been recorded thus far.
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Of the 62 fatalities, 56 were children 14 years old and younger. 54 were children 4 years old and younger.
According to the World Health Organization, the measles vaccination rate among infants in Samoa fell to 31 percent last year, down from 90 percent in 2013. The sharp decline was prompted, in part, by a 2018 incident in which two infants died after receiving vaccines against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). While the deaths were later proven to be the result of nursing malpractice, anti-vaccine groups seized on the story as fodder for a misinformation campaign.
One group leading the charge was the Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine advocacy organization headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. As reported by the Washington Post, the organization posted about the deaths for months on Facebook while sowing doubt in the minds of parents about the safety of MMR vaccines.
Kennedy visited Samoa as recently as last June to meet with local anti-vaccine advocates. In recent days, some local anti-vaccine advocates have cast blame on the Samoan Government and the Ministry of Health, who they claim didn’t ship enough Vitamin A to hospitals.
While Vitamin A is used in some hospitals to treat children hospitalized with measles, scientists have debunked the idea that the vitamin can prevent getting the measles infection.
University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay said,
No other personal medications or vitamin concoction or magical oil will prevent that virus from spreading. It’s only vaccination.”
Prior to the development of a vaccine in 1963, large-scale epidemics occurred approximately every 2-3 years and according to the WHO, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.
After declining worldwide, numbers of measles cases began to spike three years ago.
Last week the United States provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of USAID funding for immediate assistance. In Samoa, all relevant information should be directed to the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) on telephone number 997, and 911 for Emergencies.