Samoa measles vaccination hits target but new cases still rising

At least 103 new cases reported since Friday but government says 89 percent of all eligible people have been immunised.

    Of the 65 measles-related deaths in Samoa in recent days, 57 were children below the age of four [Allan Stephen/UNICEF/AFP]
    Of the 65 measles-related deaths in Samoa in recent days, 57 were children below the age of four [Allan Stephen/UNICEF/AFP]

    Samoa said on Saturday that nearly 90 percent of eligible people had been vaccinated against measles as it lifted a two-day curfew imposed amid an outbreak that has killed 65 people in recent weeks.

    There were, however, 103 new cases of measles reported since Friday, Samoa's Ministry of Health said in a statement.

    The measles virus has infected almost 4,500 people in the South Pacific nation of just 200,000 since late October. Of those who died, 57 were children below the age of four.

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    The mandatory immunisation campaign aims to vaccinate 90 percent of the population, tripling Samoa's coverage in just a few weeks. The government said a rate of 89 percent had been achieved as of Friday.

    Measles cases are rising worldwide, even in wealthy nations such as Germany and the United States, as parents shun immunisation for philosophical or religious reasons, or fears, debunked by doctors, that such vaccines could cause autism.

    Samoa and the United Nations appealed on Friday to the international community for about $10.7m to battle and recover from the crisis.

    "The impacts of this emergency will be far reaching on Samoa and our people, particularly our young generations," Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said in a statement.

    "It is imperative therefore to strengthen the culture of acceptance of vaccination in order to create 'herd immunity'. This is a painful lesson we have learnt from the current crisis."

    He added that even if the government has hit its target, it was still not good enough.

    "I am not proud. I am only proud when we do 100 percent," he said.

    New Zealand and a number of other countries and organisations, including the UN agency UNICEF, have delivered thousands of vaccines and medical supplies and have sent medical personnel to help with the outbreak.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) said this week that measles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children.

    The picture for 2019 is even worse, it said, with provisional data up to November showing a three-fold increase in case numbers compared with the same period in 2018.

    SOURCE: News agencies