Red flags are flying in Samoa, indicating the houses of people in need of a measles vaccine. An outbreak on the Pacific island has led to drastic government measures to fight off the deadly disease.
The Samoan Ministry of Health declared the start of the measles outbreak on 16 October and there have been more than 4300 cases reported since then, including 63 deaths linked to measles. Most of the deaths are among children under the age of 5.
The government of Samoa declared an emergency on 19 November, closing schools and restricting children from attending public gatherings. The government also made vaccination mandatory for all 200,000 residents.
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In the first week after the emergency declaration, public health officials vaccinated 44,907 people, a quarter of the country’s population. As of 5 December, 74 per cent of the population had been vaccinated.
The Samoan government undertook a door-to-door mass vaccination campaign on 5 and 6 December to vaccinate people between 6 months old and 60 years old.
During that time, the government shut down services so that civil servants could help public health officials administer the vaccine in mobile clinics. Healthcare professionals from New Zealand and Hawaii flew in to help.
According to estimates from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, the measles vaccination rate in Samoa fell from 74 per cent in 2017 to 34 per cent in 2018. That may be due in part to hesitancy among parents to vaccinate their children after two Samoan infants died in 2018 due to improperly prepared MMR vaccines.
Measles is spreading throughout the region, with outbreaks in Tonga, Fiji, the Philippines and New Zealand.
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