Pacific / Samoa

Samoa must 'restore faith' in vaccines - health expert

14:07 pm on 18 November 2019

Samoa is experiencing a crisis of trust over its measles vaccines program, a New Zealand immunisation expert says.

A live coldchain vaccine delivery of MMR in Samoa. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Jenny Meyer

Samoa declared a state of emergency on Friday amid a measles epidemic that's claimed the lives of at least six people and infected hundreds more.

The declaration includes a legal requirement for all Samoans to receive their measles vaccination.

The director of New Zealand's Immunisation Advisory Centre, Nikki Turner, said the new measures would not be enough on their own.

"It is absolutely vital that Samoa moves like it's doing to restore faith in the health services to really support their people. So legislation alone without restoring trust is unlikely to have much effect."

Samoa's top health official, Take Naseri, has blamed low measles vaccination rates in Samoa - around a third of the population lack protection against the disease - as a key factor in the outbreak.

Experts have also said the deaths of two infants in January 2018 from a fatal dose of a measles vaccine that was incorrectly mixed with an anaesthetic has discouraged many Samoans from seeking vaccinations.

"The immunisation program drop has been dramatic since that time," said Dr Turner, in reference to the infants' deaths.

Samoa's government declared a measles epidemic in mid-October.