New Zealand / World

Measles outbreak: NZ sends vaccines, medical staff to Samoa

07:43 am on 15 November 2019

New Zealand is sending vaccines and nurses to Samoa to help the country tackle its worsening measles outbreak.

Surgical face masks are now becoming a common sight in the shops and streets of Apia as the community responds to the measles alert. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Jenny Meyer

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said that at the request of the Samoan government, New Zealand would provide 3000 measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines and 12 nurses to help contain the "serious and growing" outbreak.

The epidemic has claimed at least one more life in Samoa in the past few days, with the death of a one-year-old. Her two-year-old brother died five days before her.

At least seven deaths from measles are suspected in Samoa, mostly of young children. As of Monday, 628 suspected cases had been recorded with 48 confirmed so far, RNZ Pacific reported.

The University of the South Pacific's campus in Samoa cancelled its 2019 graduation ceremony yesterday because of the outbreak.

The outbreak in the Pacific is also sweeping Tonga, Fiji, and American Samoa, which yesterday declared a public health emergency requiring all visitors coming from Samoa or Tonga to provide proof of MMR immunisation.

Two universities in Samoa have cancelled graduation ceremonies as the epidemic, declared last month continues to grow.

The first nurses who will administer vaccines will arrive on Wednesday, with other nurses working on rotation over the coming weeks.

The vaccines are undergoing final clearance to arrive in Samoa next week.

"Measles is highly contagious, and the outbreak has taken lives in Samoa. It is in everybody's interests that we work together to stop its spread," Mr Peters said in a statement.

"New Zealand has already responded to earlier requests from Samoa for medical supplies, and for pharmaceutical refrigerators which are essential to preserving the efficacy of vaccines."

Supplies to Samoa have included face masks, gowns, hand sanitiser and stretcher beds, and vaccination fridges, Mr Peters said.

Auckland University vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said likened the spread in Samoa to a "wildfire that is burning out of control" which would be difficult to contain.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said supplies had been sent to Tonga, including essential medical supplies, protective clothing, vials and needles. All government kindergarten and primary schools have been closed until 25 November to try isolate young children from high school students who had caught measles.

An MFAT spokesperson said New Zealand was monitoring the situation in the Pacific closely and was ready to respond to additional requests for assistance.

The number of cases recorded each week in New Zealand has fallen sharply since its peak in mid-September, but the Auckland Regional Public Health Serviceexpects cases to continue into December and January.