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'We're resuscitating kids all morning.' How two accidental deaths sparked a measles epidemic.

“We’ve essentially been resuscitating children all morning.”

That’s the message from British nurse Becky Platt who is on the ground in Samoa right now.

Since October, 61 children and nine adults have died from measles in the small island nation. The country is experiencing daily deaths as dozens upon dozens of children are buried.

The epidemic can be traced back to 2018, when two babies died from measles vaccinations after nurses incorrectly mixed the vaccine with an expired anaesthetic instead of water. The babies’ deaths caused major distrust in the country’s vaccination program which saw immunisation rates drop sharply from 74 per cent to 31 per cent.

Medical teams have been flown in from around the world to help the measles epidemic in Samoa. Post continues after video.

Video via UKEMT

The Samoan government has declared a state of emergency in the country as nurses go door-to-door in an attempt to get everyone up-to-date with their vaccines.

What has happened in Samoa is a reminder of the importance of vaccinations and “herd immunity” (aka, us all vaccinating together as a community).

After the two little babies died in July last year, the government halted its MMR immunisation program until April of this year while it investigated. The deaths were ruled to be due to human error not the vaccine, and the nurses responsible were each sentenced to five years in prison for manslaughter. But by the time the vaccination program started again distrust in vaccinations was already paramount.

Anti-vaccination sentiment was led by locals like Edwin Tamasese who called for residents to use vitamin C instead of the vaccine, while alternative healer Fritz Alai’asa claimed alkaline water was the answer. Australian anti-vaxxer Taylor Winterstein also weighed in, alongside leading anti-vaccination advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr as they too spread misinformation to locals, just two months before the outbreak.

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Director of the WHO immunisation department Kate O’Brien told The Guardian that misinformation on vaccine safety has “had a very remarkable impact on the immunisation program” in Samoa.

To be effective, a country needs an immunisation level of 90 percent. (Australia is up at 95 percent, according to the Department of Health.)

Samoa’s low immunisation rates combined with the highest incidents of measles worldwide in the first six months of 2019 (compared to the first six months of any year since 2006, according to WHO) meant a deadly outbreak always seemed likely.

At last count, there were more than 4,693 confirmed cases of measles in Samoa, which equates to two percent of the entire population. In one 24-hour period, 171 cases were logged. The neighbouring islands of Tonga and Fiji have also declared states of emergency, but both countries have higher vaccination rates and so far haven’t reported any deaths.

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Measles are highly contagious and spread like wildfire – starting with symptoms of fever, sneezing and runny nose and increasing to a blotchy rash that spreads across the body.

What started with a few cases appearing on the Pacific island nation in October quickly led to a state of emergency by November. Schools were closed, curfews enforced and children under 17 banned from public gatherings.

Last week homes that had not been immunised were forced to fly red flags out the front. A similar marking system was used when the Black Death ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages and when yellow fever hit Florida in 1988.

Samoa Battles Measles Outbreak
Red flags are seen hanging outside of homes indicating if they've not been vaccinated for measles Image: Chikara Yoshida/Getty.

Over two days hundreds of medical professionals (both international and local) roamed the streets in mobile vaccination teams injecting about 40,000 people with the MMR vaccine, reports the ABC.

The BBC adds that Samoan officials have in that time managed to get vaccination rates up from 31 to 55 per cent, with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi vowing to get the figure above 90 per cent.

But as the number of recorded deaths continues to climb, misinformation continues to get in the way. The ABC reports that some locals ran and hid when they saw nurses on their doorstep.

Winterstein, who is the wife of Australian footballer Frank Winterstein, runs $200 workshops on the 'dangers' of vaccinations and has 28,000 followers on Instagram. As the compulsory vaccination program was rolled out in Samoa, she compared the move to Nazi Germany.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Remember when I said Samoa was TURNING into Nazi Germany?!.....and no I didn't edit my caption because of @acurrentaffair9, I changed it because too many were missing the point on my supplement post to help with measles, so I will post it here AGAIN. If you want to be injected with vaccines, GO AHEAD, inject away but UNDERSTAND there are DISTRESSED PARENTS in Samoa who DO NOT want their children injected with this toxic MMR vaccine and are LITERALLY HIDING in their homes to avoid Govt authorities who are forcing a one-size-fits-all medical procedure...hmmm Sound familiar?? The reality on the ground is - the Samoan Govt has mandated the MMR vaccine for everyone in the country starting from 6 months of age, door knocking has begun to vaccinate on the spot, ambulances doing drive bys to find children who are unvaccinated, police officers willing to arrest anyone who dares speak up about the risks AND children being forced to get vaccinated again, even if they've already had their MMR vaccine. If you're on here wasting your time trolling/hating - telling others it's "safe and effective", "vaccines save lives" or that "vaccine injury is rare" - yet haven't even received the MMR vaccine recently yourself... WAKE???? UP????.

A post shared by Taylor Winterstein (@tays_way_) on

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Activist Edwin Tamasese described the government's mass vaccination program as "the greatest crime against our people" and continued - even as the epidemic unfolded  - to urge locals to use vitamin C instead.

"This will save your kids," he wrote on Facebook last Wednesday.

The local businessman, who has no medical training, has since been arrested for spreading anti-vaccination information, and charged with incitement.

It's not just in Samoa that anti-vaccination sentiment has grown - in Australia there is a small but loud group that are infiltrating the public psyche.

“We are on a trajectory that is going in absolutely the wrong direction…it’s not just a 2018 phenomenon. We’re actually seeing an increase in the reported cases to date in 2019 that will substantially exceed the number in 2018,” Dr Kate O'Brien said.

“We have to really move from putting out fires, responding to outbreaks all the time and strengthen the essential immunisation programs so that we’re not facing these situations country by country, month in, month out, year in, year out,” she insisted, blaming social media channels for the spread of misinformation.

So if there is a parent in your life that's questioning whether to immunise their child, we've rounded up the most common arguments against it and completely debunked them here. What's happening in Samoa is a horrific reminder of the importance of vaccination.

Feature image: AAP. 

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