Reaching the unvaccinated. Law to save lives
The Samoa government’s estimate of 16,000 people being unvaccinated is mind-boggling, especially after 72 lives have already been lost to the measles epidemic.
But the numbers don’t lie and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi says their estimates are those who remain unvaccinated represent 8 per cent of the total population, who are yet to be inoculated by teams from the Ministry of Health.
The unvaccinated 8 per cent of the population is a major factor behind the Disaster Advisory Committee recommending that the state of emergency be extended, according to the Prime Minister.
Tuilaepa announced in a press conference on Saturday afternoon that the state of emergency orders which expires on Monday will be extended to December 29.
“To date the vaccination campaign has reached 92 per cent," he said.
"The 8 per cent left amounts to 16,000 of those that have not been vaccinated hence the decision made today. The safety of the public is paramount to Cabinet and the Disaster Advisory Committee."
The objective of the government’s state of emergency extension is to improve the country’s immunisation coverage from 92 to 100 per cent — a mammoth task but one that should be undertaken — if the foundations are to be laid for a country free of measles and other contagious diseases.
The Disaster Advisory Committee Chair, Ulu Bismarck Crawley, expressed similar sentiments about the need for Samoa to get it right now to ensure it doesn't face a similar public health crisis in the future.
“We will not leave any rock unturned, that I can tell you," he said in an interview with this newspaper.
"The recommendation was based on analysis and data provided by the Ministry of Health and mainly for the protection of our people.”
We applaud the determination and commitment shown by Ulu and his Committee to ensure medical personnel reach out to that critical mass of people, who through their non-vaccination remain a risk to the wider community.
Giving this newspaper an insight into the challenges that they currently face, Ulu revealed that last Friday — one week after the government wrapped up its door-to-door vaccination programme that coincided with a government-private sector shutdown — a medical team was dispatched to vaccinate a 20-member family who were not inoculated during the two-day shutdown.
But how did the 20-member family which included adults and babies miss the government’s two-day door-to-door vaccination programme on December 5-6?
The above 20-family members case revealed by Ulu probably explains why the government has come up with a conservative estimate of 16,000 — just to ensure that it has all the gaps covered.
However, at the end of the day the onus to create a health population also rests with us. We have a responsibility to ensure our family members are vaccinated, receive medical treatment and are subject to regular checks.
But there are times when we as parents drop our guard and refuse to accept proper medical advice, following the diagnosis of our children by professionally trained medical doctors. We think we know better – despite our child displaying symptoms of measles – and opt for traditional healers to our children’s peril.
Therefore, when it becomes a matter of life and death and with the lives of our young and vulnerable on the line, it is only right that the government legislates to bring in laws to enable the State to intervene.
On that note we welcome moves by the government to introduce new legislation that would make vaccination mandatory for children and parents will be prohibited from discharging critically-ill children against medical advice.
We are sure there have been numerous instances of parents opting for traditional medicine, and discharging their children against the advice of medical experts. This new bill, when enacted by the Parliament, will give hospital staff powers to stop parents from discharging critically-ill children. It is a step in the right direction.
With the government extending the state of emergency to December 29, we urge parents to take note of revised orders, which includes children under the age of 14 showing proof of vaccination before they are allowed to travel on the inter-island ferry.
Public gathering and facilities including shops still remains off-limits to children and full credit should be given to businesses who are using their security guards to enforce a children-free policy on their premises.
Stay safe Samoa and have a wonderful Monday, God bless.