Distraught parents want answers to help save lives

15 July 2018, 12:00AM

While Samoa mourns the deaths of two babies who died in Savai’i after they were vaccinated last week, parents of two children who died after being immunised in Samoa have come forward to share their story in the hope that it could save someone’s life. 

Karl and Christine Laulu, of Apia, told TVNZ they were devastated to hear the latest developments in Samoa in relation to the vaccination. If anything, Mr. and Mrs. Laulu understand the pain the parents are going through.

In April this year, the Laulus lost their daughter Alana-Rae, who had been taken from Samoa to Starship Hospital in Auckland. 

Two years earlier, they lost their son Jamie Ray. The circumstances were similar.

Both had been given the M.M.R. vaccine and their bodies reacted to it although it is suspected that Alana-Rae and Jamie Ray have had a rare life-threatening immunodeficiency disorder.

Their parents decided to speak publicly after media reports on their deaths after being given the vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (M.M.R.) in Samoa.

A one-year-old girl died within a few minutes of being vaccinated. Two hours later, another one-year-old died. 

Both deaths occurred at Safotu Hospital.

The Government has launched a full inquiry into the deaths.

But the Sunday Samoan understands that the Laulu’s lawyer, Leuluaiali’i Olinda Woodroffe, has written to the local authorities to include the deaths of Alana-Rae and Jamie-Ray in the investigation.

According to a report on TVNZ, the parents said experts discovered their daughter may have had a rare life-threatening immunodeficiency. It was likely her brother did too.

"Once the M.M.R. injection was given to them, their bodies went into hypodrive," Karl Laulu told TVNZ. 

The parents said they do not blame the vaccine for what happened. They also do not blame the local hospital but all they want are some answers.

Since  their daughter’s death in April, the Laulus have decided to stay in New Zealand to await the result of further tests so they can get some closure.

In the meantime, Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris, of the University of Auckland's Immunisation Advisory Centre told Stuff that the Laulus' case was very separate from what happened last week.

"There are people who shouldn't receive the MMR vaccine," she said, noting New Zealand has established pre-screening checks to ensure the vaccine is only given to suitable candidates.

Immunodeficiency problems meant a person's immune system would struggle to deal with those viruses, and while "usually nothing" happened, in rare cases people could get sick.

While not commenting on the specific immunodeficiency problem in the Laulus' case, she told Stuff conditions such as HIV and severe combined immunodeficiency prevented children from being able to safely receive the MMR vaccine. Chemotherapy treatment made people unsuitable for the vaccine as well.  

It was important for those who could get vaccinated to do so, so herd immunity kept vulnerable people safe.

"These are the people we need to protect in the community that can't be vaccinated themselves." "Very serious adverse events" from the MMR vaccine included encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain), meningitis and anaphylaxis. The risk of those was "in the order of one in a million", Petousis-Harris estimated.

Attempts have been made to get a comment from the Ministry of Health.

15 July 2018, 12:00AM

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