Over the past month, the independent island nation of Samoa has been making headlines for a disastrous measles outbreak, affecting nearly 5,000 people and killing 72 people, mostly young children.
More than 40 percent of deaths have been recorded in infants and 90 percent among children under five years of age.
However, the number of new cases of measles in Samoa is slowing – thanks to increasing vaccination coverage.
The signs and symptoms of measles are fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and a rash. Experts say that at least one in three develops measles complications, such as diarrhea and pneumonia.
One of the most frustrating and tragic things about the measles outbreak is that there is a safe and effective vaccine available to prevent the infection.
According to experts, a single dose of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) is 95 to 98 percent effective, while two doses offer 99 percent protection against measles.
As measles is one of the most contagious diseases, more than 94 percent of the population needs to be immunized to stop the spread of the virus.
So, how Samoa is affected by the measles outbreak?
Two children in Samoa died shortly after getting the MMR vaccine in July 2018. However, it was later found that the deaths were actually caused by medical negligence or human error and not due to the vaccine. Officials found that the MMR vaccine was unknowingly mixed with an outdated muscle relaxant rather than distilled water.
This tragic event resulted in the suspension of the national measles vaccination program in Samoa. Also, people lost confidence in vaccine safety. Eventually, this led to a fall in the vaccination rate in 2018.
The officials said a traveler with measles, who visited Samoa in August, re-introduced the virus. This affected unvaccinated children, making it possible for the virus to spread across the Pacific island nation of Samoa.
The first confirmed case of measles was reported in September and the outbreak was declared in October, promoting the Samoan government to declare a state of emergency on November 15. Samoan public health officials immediately started the national measles vaccination program, making it mandatory to get vaccinated. They asked people who were not vaccinated to raise a red flag or cloth outside their home. The officials estimate that more than 93 percent of the population has been vaccinated.