All eyes on Samoa as measles epidemic worsens
As the measles epidemic claims 48 lives and infects over 3500, the world’s attention is on the heart of the Pacific in Samoa.
While measles has broken out across the world, nowhere has it claimed as many lives relative to Samoa, raising the urgent question of why.
Here in Samoa, several international news outlets have touched down in Apia to cover the public health emergency.
From New Zealand alone, four media outlets have sent teams: TVNZ’s One News, TV3’s Newshub, Radio New Zealand Pacific and Checkpoint programmes and most recently Fairfax’s Stuff.co.nz.
From further afield, England’s The Telegraph and Sweden’s Public Service Television have sent teams too.
The Telegraph’s Senior Editor, Global Health Security, Paul Nuki dispatched veteran reporter Brian Deer, who first exposed the now infamously discredited Andrew Wakefield who first claimed the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine caused autism.
His claims, published in a medical paper have been widely debunked though the damage to trust in vaccinations suffered greatly because of them.
Mr. Nuki said the global rise in measles cases has been a “major focus” for the Telegraph, and have been reporting on the epidemic in Samoa since mid-November. He said the rising death toll prompted him to send reporters to the ground.
“The surge in measles cases in Britain and around the world has been a major focus for us, not least because with vaccination the disease is entirely preventable,” he told the Samoa Observer.
“The anti-vaxxer lie has since been picked up by others and amplified by social media across the world. Many countries have suffered including Britain but Samoa appears to be caught in a perfect storm.
“We want to make clear the danger measles poses and the importance of vaccination.”
The disturbingly high death toll measles has taken in Samoa is the focus of an Australian biomedical scientist and self-titled pro vaccination educator Rod Cook.
He has calculated the equivalent deaths around the world, if other countries had the same death rates as in Samoa.
He calculates 1.848 million people would be dead globally. That means 1,150 deaths in New Zealand, 5,904 in Australia and as many as 78,528 deaths in the United States of America.
“Around 136 million people would be affected if every couple had the same measles incidence as Samoa,” Mr. Cook writes.
Measles, which the World Health Organisation had been attempting to wipe out by 2020, has made a global resurgence this year. In developed countries this has been attributed to a growing anti-vaccination movement encouraging parents to skip once uncontroversial vaccine programmes for their children.
But in 2019, there were more measles cases worldwide between January and June than in any year since 2007, the Centre for Disease Control reports.
Vaccination is the only prevention for measles, and the W.H.O reports measles deaths have been reduced 80 per cent because of it since 2000.
It is a highly infectious disease, every case of which can infect up to 18 unvaccinated people very quickly. A model built by the University of Auckland suggests Samoa’s death rate (currently 1.3 per cent of all cases) could mean 70 deaths all up.
The mass vaccination campaign, which alone has immunised over a quarter of Samoan people will hopefully reduce that number, which was not calculated with new immunisations but will when more detailed data becomes available.