Extreme measures implemented to tackle measles outbreak in Samoa

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In Samoa, the government is being shut down in efforts to deal with a deadly measles outbreak.

The country said that the government will be shut down for two days to enable public officials to focus on combating the outbreak.

To date, the outbreak has claimed the lives of 53 people and infected 3,728. According to Health Ministry statistics, 48 of the dead are children aged under five.

People who are spreading lies and misinformation about vaccinations are killing children

Later this week (5 and 6 December), all private and public offices, services, businesses and operations have been ordered to be closed between 6am and 6pm. These seemingly extreme measures highlight the severity of the outbreak and the danger it poses.

In addition, roads will be closed, with very few exceptions. An official government document states: "No vehicle is permitted on the road unless it is a vehicle belonging to an exempt service from the public sector or a vehicle being used to seek medical assistance from a medical facility."

Furthermore, Samoan residents have been told to remain at home and await the vaccination units that are being mobilised for an MMR vaccination plan. The mass vaccination campaign has already begun and, as of Sunday 1 December, 58,150 people had been inoculated.

Sheldon Yett, Unicef representative to the Pacific, spoke to the BBC about the effects of the outbreak: "The situation has a tremendous impact on everybody. People are nervous, people are seeing the impact of this disease. Samoa is a very small country, and everybody knows somebody who's been affected by this."

So, how did the outbreak begin? It’s believed to be linked to a decrease in vaccination rates due to persistent misinformation about the safety of vaccines, along with an increase in international travel. These factors have led to a sharp increase in measles rates in a number of countries where the disease was thought to have been eliminated.

Yett said that the crisis highlights the importance of vaccination. "People who are spreading lies and misinformation about vaccinations are killing children," he said. "The best way to keep children safe is to make sure they're immunised. Preventing vaccination and presenting false information kills children. That is clear – the evidence speaks for itself."

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi discouraged people from turning to traditional healers for remedies, stating that vaccinations are ‘the only cure’.