Health Director General encourages continued vaccination

After the mass vaccination campaign is said and done, children 12 months and 15 months should get their routine measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations, the Director General of the Ministry of Health has said.

Under the emergency circumstances of the current measles epidemic, children six to 11 months have been given a dose of the vaccine. They should, however, still get both routine doses as they grow, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri said.

The vaccination of older children and adults is a precaution, to grow herd immunity to a safe level. While both doses of the vaccine are needed at childhood, currently there are no plans to get a second dose to anyone older than two years old. 

Leausa said the Ministry will review the mass vaccination campaign rates after the outbreak is controlled, and address whether more doses need to be delivered. 

The government’s move to make vaccination compulsory before school entrance will help close vaccination gaps in children under five, he added.

“Vaccination is an ongoing thing,” he explained.

“After the outbreak and the mass vaccination we will review all that and we will continue. 

“Now, I think government is going to make it mandatory before [children] enter school that all their vaccinations are up to date. So that is another checkpoint.” 

Children under six months are not able to get vaccinated but may be protected by antibodies from their mother’s own immunity, either inherited or passed through breastmilk. To best protect newborns from measles, keep them at home and away from anyone potentially exposed to the virus.

Currently, children six months to 19 years, and non-pregnant women aged 20 to 35 should get vaccinated immediately.

Pregnancy should be avoided for at least one month after vaccination.

Men over 20, and all over 35-year-olds will be vaccinated after the target age group is entirely vaccinated, and the National Emergency Operations Centre (N.E.O.C.) will advise when that will be.

There are more than 30 locations where vaccination is available, mobile clinics are roaming villages in vans to reach those who cannot travel. 

The N.E.O.C expects to be able to say how many people have been vaccinated this week in the new vaccination clinic, Leausa said.

Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris, vaccinologist at the University of Auckland said the community needs two doses per person to prevent future outbreaks.

"Based on what we know about the level of measles vaccine protection and the proportion of the community that need to be immune to stop transmission of the disease this strategy is unlikely to prevent future outbreaks," she said.

"A single dose is around 92% protective so even if you vaccinated every single person (which is unlikely) it will not be optimal. Two doses provide about 98% protection so getting 95% of the community vaccinated across all ages should be the strategy. This is what is globally recommended.

"There are various approaches that countries take to get their immunisation coverage up and maintain it. Making it compulsory is one approach. It is not the ideal solution for many countries but given the situation in Samoa it may be the only way this sort of tragedy can be averted in the future. I do think there needs to be consideration given to building trust between the government, the health providers, and the public. There is the very real risk that mandatory measures can antagonise and polarise people."

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