Acting C.J. orders coronial inquiry into vaccination deaths

Acting Chief Justice, Vui Clarence Nelson has ordered that a coronial inquiry is done into the death of two babies in Savai'i in July last year following their vaccination.

He said the inquiry is important to restore public confidence in the country's vaccination programme following the deaths of the two toddlers.

The directive was made during the sentencing of two nurses, Luse Emo Tauvale and Leutogi Te’o, for their roles in negligently preparing and administering a “deadly mixture” of a Measles, Mumps and Rubella (M.M.R.) vaccine and expired anaesthetic that caused the death of the two infants.

Combining the negligence causing manslaughter and defeating the course of justice charge, Luse was ordered to serve five-and-a-half years in prison while Leutogi received a sentence of five years.

Justice Vui said he has tasked District Court Judge Alalatoa Rosella Papali’i with overseeing the inquest. 

“It is hoped [that] the coronial inquiry and also comments in the sentencing of the court will reassure the mothers of the and everyone else, the reasons for the death of the young children is not the vaccine but the negligent [manner] in which it was administered by these two women (Luse Emo Tauvale and Leutogi Te’o)," he said on Friday. 

According to Justice Vui, the Court’s usual procedure during sentencing for cases relating to homicide is to reveal coronial findings concurrently. 

However, for this matter the Acting Chief Justice instead opted to delay the coronial inquiry for independent review. 

“That is because it is necessary to determine who exactly did what and whether protocols and other matters need to be revisited so this does not ever occur again," the Judge said. 

“I have no doubt the coroner will issue the necessary findings and recommendations in due course.” 

Justice Vui said convincing people to vaccinate their children against potentially fatal diseases is a struggle in many countries. 

“And in our country the medical authorities also face this problem, this incident has led to both mothers refusing to vaccinate their other children, something which is quite understandable, but it makes their children vulnerable to many crippling and dangerous diseases," said Justice Vui. 

“The defendant’s actions have eroded the confidence of these mothers in vaccinations. It is something that can easily spread to other mothers and put at risk the entire vaccination program and the children of our society as a whole."

Samoa's routine M.M.R. vaccination was resumed nine months after it was suspended as a result of the incident.

In April this year the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) Director General, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, told the Samoa Observer that vaccines used in Samoa are pre-qualified by the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) and are therefore safe for use.

He said the checks by the WHO were thorough to ensure the vaccines are suitable for children, and the Government's vaccination program has a long history, dating back to the time prior to national independence in 1962.

“We are currently in a critical period where parents and families have fears and suspicions on the vaccine," the doctor said. 

"But vaccinations are not new in Samoa; it has happened ever since before independence; it was through these vaccines that protected the lives of children from various diseases, that [could have] resulted in deaths.

“These vaccines will protect you throughout your lives from encountering diseases.

"We urge our people to consider what is good for their kids, in terms of ridding them of various diseases that can harm them and no parent wants to see their children sick. 

"Vaccination will ensure your child is safe."

Leausa said that the M.O.H. have noted a low turnout for other vaccination programs, but stressed that having a child vaccinated is the only way to protect children from the threat posed by diseases. 

Last month a report by the Asian Development Bank raised concerns about Samoa's vaccination rate falling away from a global target of 90 per cent.

Samoa was vaccinating just 71.8 per cent of children in 2017, according to the report, citing data from the World Bank. That is the country's lowest vaccination rate since 2010, when it jumped up to 73.4 per cent from a low of 64 per cent in 2009.

The July Pacific Economic Monitor, released in late July, reveals Samoa’s primary health service quality is falling due to a shrinking workforce, drug shortages and access issues.

“These factors have contributed to deterioration in routine immunisation coverage rates that, in recent years, have fallen short of the international target of over 90 per cent,” the report states.

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