Published: Sun, December 08, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Samoa arrests anti-vaxxer amid measles epidemic

Samoa arrests anti-vaxxer amid measles epidemic

At least 63 people, mostly children, have died since the outbreak began in mid-October, with the crisis blamed on so-called "anti-vaxxers" convincing parents that immunisations were unsafe.

The small Pacific island nation of Samoa has closed schools and is restricting travel ahead of the Christmas holiday season as the death toll from a measles outbreak tops 50, in the latest flare-up of a global epidemic of the virus.

Communications Minister Afamasaga Rico Tupai warned that, by spreading false conspiracy theories, anti-vaxxers were hindering the unprecedented public health effort to stop the spread of the disease.

"Unfortunately, anti-vaxxers have been holding us back", he told TVNZ.

"It's quite clear that they have a corporate responsibility to step up to the plate and make sure that populations, particularly vulnerable populations, get accurate information that's going to keep children alive", he said.

He warned that anti-vaxxers "do not get in the way, do not contribute to the deaths".

Edwin Tamasese was charged with incitement against a government order after he was detained on Thursday.

The vaccine against measles, part of combination that fights mumps and rubella (MMR), provides full protection in about two or three weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before his arrest, he had described the government's mass vaccination programme as "the greatest crime against our people", and falsely claimed vitamin C could cure the infected children.

"Many hundreds or thousands more were immunised or saved.because of the bold action you've taken".

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United States anti-vaxxers are reportedly swamping Samoan government websites with material described as "nonsense".

In the first day of the shutdown, it's estimated about 6000 vaccinations were administered. People are being asked to stay home and hang red flags outside to show if they need to be vaccinated.

There are also 20 children critically ill in hospital.

Babies are the most vulnerable to measles, which usually causes a rash and fever, but can also cause brain damage and death.

The current crisis in Samoa has also triggered many foreign anti-vaccination campaigners to weigh in and criticising the country's drive to immunise its children, which is trying lift the level of measles vaccination coverage to more than 90%.

"A mass immunisation campaign is being carried out across the entire country with the aim of increasing vaccination rates from around 30 per cent before the outbreak to 95 per cent as quickly as possible" said UNICEF's Representative to the Pacific, Sheldon Yett.

Yett said social media had been used to spread anti-vaccination misinformation in Samoa and the online giants running the platforms needed to clamp down on such "incredibly irresponsible" material.

K'aute Pasifika Trust chief executive Rachel Karalus the local Samoan community was "profoundly affected" by the tragedy, which has mostly affected children.

"While the Ebola outbreak in the DRC has won the world's attention and progress is being made in saving lives, we must not forget the other urgent health needs the country faces", said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

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