Samoa shuts down as authorities battle deadly measles outbreak

A protest against cartoonist Garrick Tremain outside the Otago Daily Times Dunedin offices

Officials had asked unvaccinated residents to hang red flags outside their homes to help the campaign.

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

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi told reporters the vaccine drive was unprecedented in the nation's history.

"I've seen mass mobilization campaigns before, but not in an entire country like this", UNICEF Pacific Island chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.

One other problem, he stated, was that some individuals had been looking for assist from conventional healers, who had been efficiently treating tropical ailments in Samoa for some 4,000 years.

Australia, New Zealand and the World Health Organization are leading a multilateral effort to assist Samoa and control the spread of measles throughout the region.

The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt measles infection rates that have been inexorably rising since mid-October, with most of the victims young children.

Officials suspended non-essential government services to allow public officials to support the vaccination campaign, and ordered all companies to close.


Immunisation rates in Pacific island nations Tonga and Fiji are at around 90 percent, and their measles outbreaks have been far milder.

Mistrust of health authorities was fueled past year by the sudden deaths of two infants given MMR vaccinations falsely mixed with an anaesthetic.

The NHS explains: "This is because the MMR vaccine is highly effective and vaccine uptake has been very high in the United Kingdom for many years". Measles is common in many countries around the world, and now there are several large measles outbreaks across Europe. Despite the convictions, anti-vaccine advocates have used the cases to drum up fear of vaccines.

The measles death toll in Samoa is still going up, with another two people dying overnight.

The initial symptoms of measles develop around 10 days after being infected.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports some anti-vaccination parents were encouraging their children to hide from the teams to avoid the mandatory injection.

If you're unsure whether you've had the MMR vaccine, speak to your GP.

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