Samoa ends measles state of emergency as infection rate slows

A mass vaccination drive covering 95 percent of population brings deadly disease under control.

MMR vaccine
A mass immunisation drive has helped bring a measles epidemic in Samoa under control after 81 people died, most of them babies and young children [File: Lindsey Wasson/Reuters]

The South Pacific island nation of Samoa has lifted a six-week state of emergency after the infection rate from a measles outbreak that killed 81 people was brought under control.

The highly-infectious disease swept through Samoa in November, infecting more than 5,600 people. Most of the victims were babies and young children.

The government said in a statement late on Saturday that the emergency orders, which included aggressive measures to contain the virus such as closing schools and restricting travel, had been lifted

Cases of measles – an airborne infection causing fever, coughing and rashes – are on the rise globally, including in wealthy nations such as the United States and Germany, where some parents shun life-saving vaccines because of long-discredited theories suggesting links between the vaccine and autism.

Death and infection rates in Samoa started to slow in mid-December after a vaccine drive pushed immunisation rates towards 95 percent, the level health experts say is effective in creating “herd immunity” that can contain the disease.

Earlier in the year, an outbreak of measles hit the New Zealand city of Auckland, a hub for travel to and from small Pacific islands.

The disease soon found a highly-susceptible population in Samoa which had far lower vaccination rates than its neighbours. The island nation is home to about 200,000 people.

Source: Reuters