Restoring public confidence in vaccinations is a priority - Tagaloa

Restoring the public’s confidence in health officials administering the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination is a priority for the Ministry of Health (MOH) before any plans are made to resume the programme. 

The MMR programme was suspended last July after two infants died after being administered the vaccine. Two nurses have been charged and are awaiting trial.

MOH Assistant Chief Executive Officer (Health Service Performance and Quality Assurance – Medical and Allied Division), Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thomsen, says until that trust and confidence is restored, a MMR vaccination resumption date is uncertain at this point.

“Basically we are working on putting together a plan of how we are most likely going to restart the vaccination,” Tagaloa told the Samoa Observer. 

“That is the comment of Rasul but at the end of the day it is the readiness of the workers, and confidence from the public to the system and that is what we are working towards. To gain the confidence of the public in the system and reassure the public in the system and vaccination.” 

Tagaloa was asked for a comment following reports that the MMR programme will resume by the end of April. Radio New Zealand quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Samoa, Rasul Baghirov, in a recent report where he reportedly said they will step-up the programme and aim to have all eligible children vaccinated by the end of April.

But that appears unlikely with the MOH reserving any decision to recommence vaccination until after a Commission of Inquiry and criminal proceedings involving the two nurses are concluded. 

Tagaloa said pending the inquiry and the criminal proceedings, it is unlikely the vaccination program will resume before the MOH gets the outcome. 

Asked if it means that the MOH and WHO did not discuss plans on resuming MMR vaccination, Tagaloa said it was only discussions but “putting a date on it is not certain”. 

According to the ACEO, the view from WHO to resume vaccinations next month might also be related to concerns with the upcoming Pacific Games in July. 

“In the sense we will see influx of people in the country and that influx will bring its own challenges in the health system,” he pointed out. 

“One of the challenges in the health system is someone might come during the Games and might have a measles, mumps or rubella with them and it can cause an outbreak like what is happening in New Zealand right now.” 

However, Tagaloa emphasised that with such concerns the MOH “might” consider resuming vaccinations but “that is what we are working towards” and date is not certain at this point. 

Since the MMR vaccination program was suspended in July last year, the MOH has not had any confirmed measles, mumps or rubella cases in Samoa, added Tagaloa. 

He said there were suspected cases and the diseases are under urgent notifications. 

“We have not been notified yet of any of the three diseases: rubella, mumps and measles (since suspension of MMR)."

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