Measles Outbreak Shuts Down Samoa

Fueled by failures in healthcare systems, anti-vaxxers, and fear of vaccinations in connection to prior vaccination failures, there has been a global resurgence of measles, culminating in the shutdown of Samoa. Measles is an extremely contagious disease because it can live in the air for up to two hours. Robert Links from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes this as the “canary in the coal mine” because measles represent issues in health care services. The CDC describes measles as having symptoms of a rash and a high fever that can result in brain swelling and possible death, even with medical services. 

While this disease is rare in the United States and was considered eliminated in 2000, measles is returning globally at an unprecedented rate. In fact, 110,000 people died in 2017 from the measles. According to the New York Times, the country that has been hit the hardest by this epidemic is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with 233,000 infected in 2019 and almost 5,000 dead. Efforts to fight the disease outbreak are further complicated by the ongoing Ebola epidemic in the DRC, as well as political strife. Other countries with increasing cases of measles are Ukraine, Brazil, the Philippines, and even the United States with thousands of cases confirmed in each country, often due to low confidence in vaccines.

Samoa, a South Pacific nation with a population of almost 200,000, is made up of six islands. Containing the American Samoa, an American island territory similar to Guam in legal standing, is fighting back against the severe measles outbreak that holds the island nation in its grips. The government has taken extreme, but necessary measures, to fight this outbreak as the death toll climbed to 68 as of December 9th. In Samoa, thousands of are infected and children are getting hit the hardest.

Measles, according to the CDC, can infect anyone but complications are more common and thus more deadly in young children, older adults, people with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women. Measles, however, is preventable, with two doses of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. 

The vaccination rates are particularly low in Samoa at 31% (down from 90% in 2013) due to widespread distrust of vaccinations. The distrust is understandable. In Samoa last year, two infants died after being given vaccines mistakenly mixed with muscle relaxant. Sadly now, almost 15,000 young children are still unvaccinated. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is looking for an almost 100% immunization for this South Pacific nation to prevent future outbreaks. United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) states that countries need a 95% vaccination rate to avoid outbreaks.

The Samoan government has also arrested anti-vaxxer Edwin Tamasese for an “incitement against a government order” as he attempted to convince families to ignore the mandatory vaccinations through social media posts that claimed that Vitamin C and sodium ascorbate can cure measles—it 100% cannot. 

Samoa's minister of communication, Afamasaga Lepuiai Rico Tupai stated that these anti-vaxxers are to blame for the death of the children. UNICEF also adds that mistrust and misinformation among parents is also largely to blame and that the Samoan health care system is ill-equipped to handle an epidemic of this size due to a lack of nurses. 

To prevent the further spread of this deadly epidemic and to vaccinate the public, the Samoan government has shut down public services, roads, schools, and have even banned children from public gatherings. Families who are unvaccinated are instructed to hang red cloth outside to indicate they are in need of a vaccine.