Samoa measles epidemic death toll reaches 70

A mass immunisation drive has increased vaccine coverage to 90 percent from 30 percent when the epidemic began.

UNICEF - Samoa
A mass immunisation drive has lifted Samoa's measles vaccination rate to 90 percent, but with the vaccine taking as long as two weeks to take effect the epidemic might not have peaked [Allan Stephen/UNICEF via AFP]

A devastating measles outbreak continued to spread in Samoa, as the death toll from the epidemic climbed to 70, mostly young children.

Official figures showed there were 112 new cases in the 24 hours to Monday morning, following a mass immunisation drive last week that saw the entire Pacific nation shut down for two days.

The country remains under a state of emergency with no one under the age of 19 allowed to attend public gatherings.

The government said the mobile vaccination teams had succeeded in ensuring 90 percent of the 200,000-strong population was immunised, up from around 30 percent when the epidemic began in mid-October.

However, the vaccine takes as long as 14 days to take effect, meaning it is too early to say whether the outbreak has peaked.

The total number of cases was 4,693, with 229 people currently in hospital, including 16 critically ill children.

Infants are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

Among the 70 dead, 61 are children aged four or under.

Health authorities have blamed anti-vaxxers spreading conspiracy theories for the low immunisation rate that left Samoa’s children so vulnerable to a measles outbreak.

Outbreaks elsewhere in the Pacific, including Tonga, Fiji and American Samoa, have been easier to contain because of higher immunisation rates, with no deaths reported.

Source: AFP