Samoa stopped vaccinating children and they began dying of measles — how did this happen?


An emergency ward run by AusMAT volunteers from Australia

” In July 2018, two Samoan children died shortly after receiving their MMR vaccinations.

These deaths were caused by human error and not the vaccine per se. The vaccines were inadvertently mixed with expired muscle relaxant anaesthetic instead of water.

” This tragic incident resulted in the suspension of the national measles vaccination program and loss of confidence in vaccine safety. Because of this, vaccine coverage for one-year-old children for the first dose of measles vaccine fell from 76% in 2012 to 31% in 2018…

” More than one in five Samoan babies aged six to 11 months have contracted measles during this outbreak, and more than one in 150 babies in this age group have died.

How has the Samoan government responded? How successful have they been?

” The Samoan government declared a state of emergency on November 15, setting the scene for a campaign of mandatory vaccination.

The government shut down on December 5 and 6 during a door-to-door vaccination campaign. People who had not been vaccinated were asked to leave a red flag or cloth outside their home.

Official estimates indicate 93% of the population have now been vaccinated. Achieving vaccination rates over 95% among children aged six months to four years will be key to stopping this measles outbreak.

They haven’t completely halted the outbreak, yet. Obviously, the precipitating events can’t be wholly reversed because the infected population is already sizable. But, a growing safety net is in place. Hopefully, the next time an accident – in any area of public health – provokes an ignorant public response, public officials will remember this disaster and work to prevent its reoccurrence.

72 people, mostly children have died. They didn’t have to.

I lived through a shutdown like this when I was a kid. Frankly, I don’t remember which disease. Broad public health vaccination was still a new thing happening during World War 2 and right after. The macabre springtime ritual among children – checking all our school friends to see who died over the winter – soon went away. Frankly, families who refused vaccination for their children were shunned as dangerous. As they were.