Health

Unvaccinated to fly red flags on homes as Samoa’s measles epidemic death toll rises to 60

A New Zealand health official prepares a measles vaccination at a clinic in Apia, Samoa. Source: Newshub

Five more deaths from measles have been recorded in Samoa, where the current death toll is 60, and ahead of a nationwide immunisation program.

Authorities in Samoa have asked unvaccinated families to display a red flag outside their homes to help a mass immunisation drive aimed at halting a measles epidemic that has killed dozens of children.

The tiny Pacific nation of 200,000 will grind to a halt on Thursday and Friday as non-essential government services close so public servants can help the vaccination campaign.

Over the two-day period, teams will go door-to-door administering vaccines in a desperate bid to raise the low immunity levels in Samoa that have fuelled the epidemic.

A Samoan woman prays in front of a portrait of her lost child, who died as a result of measles.
A Samoan woman prays in front of a portrait of her lost child, who died as a result of measles.
TVNZ

Immunisation is compulsory under a state of emergency imposed last month and officials asked unvaccinated families to identify themselves.

"The public is hereby advised to tie a red cloth or red flag in front of their houses and near the road to indicate that family members have not been vaccinated," a public advisory said. 

"The red mark makes it easier for the teams to identify households for vaccinations."

MEASLES
UNICEF is providing Samoa with an additional 100,000 measles vaccines.
UNICEF

Official data released on Wednesday put the death toll from the outbreak at 60, up five on the previous day.

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

Infection rates continued to climb, with 171 new cases in 24 hours, bringing the national total to 4,052.

Children with parents wait in line to get vaccinated outside a health clinic in Apia, Samoa.
Children with parents wait in line to get vaccinated outside a health clinic in Apia, Samoa.
TVNZ/AP

Vaccination efforts in recent weeks have concentrated on children but the government has now broadened its programme to include the entire population.

Samoa has received aid to combat the crisis from Australia, New Zealand, France, Britain, China, Norway, Japan, the United States and the UN.

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