Vaccine policy review underway

The Ministry of Health is training health workers on Samoa’s immunisation policy and expects to have primary care delivering routine vaccinations soon.

Deputy Director General for Public Health, Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thomsen, said the Ministry has been reviewing its current immunisation policy in order to include three new vaccines headed for Samoa: rotavirus, pneumococcal conjugate, and human papilloma virus (H.P.V.).

In August, Tagaloa delivered a policy review session that included the private health sector during which professionals were briefed on how they are to carry out vaccinations in their clinics if they want to. 

President of the Samoa Medical Association, Leniu Dr. Asaua Fa'asino, said by and large private doctors do not have the right cold storage – an ice-lined fridge – for safe vaccine delivery.

Instead, they can pick up a cooler the morning of their vaccine appointments and return it to the National Hospital in the afternoon.

“The private sector won’t have the proper storage,” Leniu explained.

“So if it’s a once a week clinic then that is the only day the private clinics will uplift their supplies, which will depend on the number of immunisations they have planned for the day. 

“Everybody has a cool storage for the usual other things but it’s a special type of ice lined fridge that [needs] constant monitoring of the temperature so it is always within a certain range.”

Tagaloa said general practitioners have always been permitted by M.O.H. to administer vaccines, and to keep them onsite if they have the right storage and are “credentialed properly.” 

But because few have the right cold chain storage, the National Hospital in Motootua keeps the supplies and can release them to doctors if they request them. 

“Vaccines are temperature sensitive,” Tagaloa said. 

“No G.P. has come yet but we have proposed to them if they want to administer vaccines we will enter into an agreement where certain conditions have to be met, including uplifting and dropping off vaccine coolers.”

Meanwhile, as well as at the hospital, routine childhood vaccines are also offered at the Matagialalua clinic on weekdays from 9am until 5pm. 

The same clinic also offers family planning and youth-oriented health services. 

The three new vaccines are being introduced to Samoa through an Asian Development Bank-funded and United Nations Children’s Fund supported project to improve the immunisation programme and cold chain storage. 

When they are added to Samoa’s Expanded Programme of Immunisation, children will be covered for 10 vaccine-preventable diseases.

The A.D.B. project is a region-wide effort to improve vaccine systems and procurement for the Pacific. It is worth US$25.1 million, including a $1.4 million grant from U.N.I.C.E.F. and covers Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

Samoa has a $7.5 million grant.

“Vaccines save lives and are vital to protect children against these preventable diseases,” UNICEF Pacific Representative Sheldon Yett said, in January when his agency joined the project. 

According to the A.D.B the project has been slightly set back by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Government and A.D.B. are reviewing the schedule this month, with local and international consultants recruited to work with M.O.H. on the delivery.

The three new vaccines are expected to be introduced next year. 

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