“There will be no plague:” Mobile units take vaccines to hundreds of households each

Mobile units across the country painstakingly checked each and every home for unvaccinated people on Thursday, taking backroads and byways marked with or without a red flag.

The measles epidemic has claimed 62 lives and will take many more before it is over. 

Over 4,200 people have been infected and the Government has taken to drastic measures to put a lid on the rising figures.

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, shut down the entire country for Thursday and Friday. With few exceptions, the every man, woman and child stayed home and waited their turn for a mobile unit of vaccinators to arrive at their door.

Inspired by the story of Passover in Exodus, Tuilaepa had every unvaccinated household mark their home in red.

“And the blood will be for you for a sign upon the houses where you will be, and I will see the blood and skip over you, and there will be no plague to destroy [you] when I smite the [people of the] land of Egypt,” the passage reads.

One unit of four - two nurses and two public servants - were on the north western side of Upolu in Salelesi armed with 300 vaccines.

Lexy Carroll, volunteer nurse from Queensland, Australia said the team quickly realised families without flags were not vaccinated, both inside and out of the previous priority age group of children and women to 35 years.

“We’ve only seen a couple of red flags out, I don’t think quite everybody knows about it,” she said.

“But even people who think they don’t need the vaccine are confused, and through talking to them they have realised they do need it. So we stop house to house to get that message out and explain it all to people.”

Ms. Carroll is back on her feet after a hit-and-run swept her off her scooter last week, just days after arriving in Samoa to help the mass vaccination campaign.

Arriving at one home with a bright red flag (and their New Caledonia flags, up from the Pacific Games in July too) outside, the family inside laid a fine mat at the entrance to their home for the team to sit down on. 

There are 12 children dotted around the large rectangular fale. All have been vaccinated already and just one adult, Menefata Tagaloa, still needs his shot.

First year nurse Lina Taumaoe takes down his details and Ms. Carroll quickly immunises him. The whole thing takes less than five minutes.

It is Ms. Taumaoe’s first time in a mobile vaccination clinic. Throughout the epidemic she has been stationed in the non-measles ward of Tupua Tamasese Meaole, treating nearly 50 people with a whole host of issues.

She has had an extremely busy few weeks, she said.

At 11am, this mobile unit still has several more hours ahead of them. Ms. Carroll believes they have vaccinated nearly 40 people and hope to get at least 150 more.

“We’ve been four-wheel driving up mountains, we’ve walked a few tracks and crossed a few footbridges to find people,” Ms. Carroll said.

She believes the mobile campaign has helped reach people who, for various reasons, would have never made it to a fixed vaccination site.

“The people we’ve seen are really poor, that are not living in proper cemented fales but in faleu’u.

“Some have special needs, or are elderly, so we’ve come to them.

Tony Alatimu is from the Samoa Water Authority, and Tuise Lafi works in the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture.

They said the volunteered to join mobile clinics to help their people.

"People are relieved to see the mass vaccination cars. They have been waiting for them,” Mr. Alatimu said.

“We’ll have another big day tomorrow.”

They team left Apia at 7am to cover three designated villages, with a GPS map of their area and even a list of households provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. 

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