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Samoa is finally crawling its way out of a measles epidemic

Published Dec 30th, 2019 11:13PM EST
samoa measles outbreak
Image: LYNN BO BO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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It’s been a rough couple of months for the residents of the island nation of Samoa. A measles outbreak has made island life a lot more difficult, with over 5,600 infected individuals and a total of 81 deaths thus far. The outbreak was fueled by an anti-vaccination movement that has been festering on the island over the past couple of years, but there are now some positive signs that things are turning around.

As BBC reports, Samoa just lifted its six-week state of emergency as it continues to push vaccines to as many residents as possible. According to the local government, the immunization push has resulted in nearly 95% of island residents being protected from the disease.

The measles outbreak in Samoa is the tragic result of a pair of equally tragic deaths. In 2018, two children in Samoa died shortly after receiving their standard measles vaccines. This led the country to pause its vaccination program and sparked fear among parents.

Eventually, health officials determined that a different medication — not the vaccines — had led to the deaths of the children, but by that point, fear over vaccine safety had grown significantly. Parents began to opt-out of vaccinating their children, and a year later, measles began to spread rapidly through the youngest island residents.

The deadly outbreak was enough to convince most parents to vaccinate their children, and friendly neighbor countries donated thousands of vaccines to help Samoa get back on its feet. The situation became so dire that the Samoan government actually shut down in order to direct all available resources to the vaccination movement.

That work appears to be paying off, and the rate of new infections has slowed significantly. It will still be some time before daily life on Samoa can return to normal, with schools and public gathering places shut down for weeks already, but at least things are looking up.