Doctor says too early to determine babies’ death

It is too early to determine the cause of death of two toddlers after they were vaccinated in Savai’i, says Doctor Aiono Alec Ekeroma.

The head of the National University of Samoa (N.U.S) Medical School also expressed concerns at comments on social media, which he said can cause harm as it will lead to people not taking their children to hospital to be vaccinated. 

He said the authorities will need to look at a number of factors including the reason why the deaths occurred only at one health center in the same time period.

“It is too early to say what caused the deaths,” he said.

“There are many factors that need looking at and the investigations may shine light on why the deaths occurred in only one health centre within a defined period of time.”

The deaths of the two one-year old babies has triggered fears within the community on the safety of vaccines, especially mothers with infants. 

The babies have been identified as Lannacallystah Samuelu and Lameko Siu.

But Aiono still believes that vaccines are safe and has prevented deaths and protected communities from diseases.

“The Ministry of Health (M.O.H) decision to immediately recall all the remaining vaccines is the correct one. The transparent process and the ensuing investigation will serve to reassure the Samoan community that the M.O.H has taken all necessary precautions to protect the health of the population,” he added.

Aiono sent his condolences to the parents and the families of the two babies who died last Friday. 

“The reaction is understandable. The concerns are understandable. Some of the comments on social media are not based on scientific evidence and can cause harm by reducing vaccination rates.”

According to Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a New Zealand vaccine expert, the vaccine that is used in New Zealand and Samoa is safe.

“M.M.R is a vaccine given after one year of age to protect against three diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. M.M.R. vaccines have been used for decades all over the world including N.Z. and there is a long track record of safety. The vaccine used in New Zealand and Samoa is extremely safe. There has never been a death associated with the administration of this vaccine in N.Z. ,” she said.

She described the deaths as tragic and said from her understanding there could be two reasons behind the fatalities. 

“There are two main reasons why something like this might happen. Medical error, where the vaccine is prepared for injection incorrectly and the wrong substance is injected. Contamination of the vaccine due to leaving it at room temperature for a long period of time. Until we have more information about the events we cannot speculate about what might have happened but us endeavouring to get more details. We first need to understand what happened, and then what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” she added. 

“Almost every child in the world receives an M.M.R vaccine or similar. Everywhere these vaccines have been used child mortality has gone down. When the M.M.R vaccine has been administered correctly we see vaccine related events occurring around a couple of weeks later,” said the New Zealand Doctor.

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