Australia

Samoa measles epidemic: Authorities forced to destroy vaccines as death toll hits 32

Red Cross volunteers in Samoa. Source: Samoa Red Cross

More than 60 measles vaccines that were not properly refrigerated by a Samoan clinic have been thrown out as the death toll from the preventable disease continues to climb.

Health officials in Samoa have been forced to throw out about 60 doses of the measles vaccine that were not properly refrigerated as the measles outbreak worsens.  

Ministry of Health Director-General Dr Take Naseri confirmed an investigation has been launched into how the measles vaccines were obtained by the clinic which is not authorised to administer them. 

“The investigation will look into the circumstances surrounding the clinics services and operations without authorisation and the procurement of the vaccines amongst other issues,” he told a press conference on Monday. 

Dr Naseri initially put the number of doses destroyed at 6,000 but a statement released on Tuesday said that was a "slip of [the] tongue". 

The private clinic, run by former health department employees, was reportedly charging a fee for the injections which are meant to be provided for free. 

More than 24,000 people have been vaccinated since the government launched a mass vaccination campaign on 20 November to address historically low levels of immunisation among its 200,000 residents.

 

 

But the number of new cases continues to skyrocket with 234 diagnosed with the infectious disease since Monday bringing the total number to 2,437. 

The death toll has risen to 32, up from 25 on Monday. All but four of the dead were children aged four and under. 

The island nation declared a state of emergency earlier in November in a bid to contain the outbreak that has swept across the Pacific.

Fiji and Tonga have also been hit by the outbreak, believed to have originated in New Zealand, but Samoa has been worst effected because of vaccination rates as low at 25-48 per cent, according to the World Health Organisation.  

While schools and kindergartens remain closed and unvaccinated pregnant women have been banned from working, some travel restrictions have been eased to allow under-19s to travel between the two major islands of Upolu and Savai'i. 

Australian medical staff at a briefing in Samoa about the mass vaccination program.
Australian medical staff at a briefing in Samoa about the mass vaccination program.
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The UN children's agency UNICEF has sent 110,000 doses of measles vaccine and medical teams from Australia and New Zealand are helping administer them. 

Aside from the devastating human cost of the epidemic, the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) expressed concern it could hurt the country's economy by discouraging visitors.

STA chief Faamatuainu Lenata'i stressed that the popular tropical destination remained open for business for travellers who had received vaccinations.

"Tourism is the mainstay of our economy with so many families depending on this industry for their livelihoods, and leading up to the holiday season, we continue to advise everyone to simply take heed of the preventative health measures that are now in place," he said.

Additional reporting by AFP.

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