WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Samoa has shut down all its schools, excluding children from public gatherings and ordered all individuals to be vaccinated after reporting an emergency for a measles outbreak that has killed six people.
After the government declared a state of emergency on Saturday, the schools were closed from Monday. The National University of Samoa urged students to stay at home and said the investigations planned for this week had been postponed indefinitely.
The health authorities said most of the deceased were under two years old. They counted 716 reported measles cases, of which nearly 716 were 100 people are still in hospital, 15 of them in the intensive care unit.
Leausa Take Naseri, general director of Samoa, said at a press conference last week that he expected the epidemic to worsen. He said only about two-thirds of Samoans had been vaccinated and others were susceptible to the virus.
World Health Organization and UNICEF figures, however, show that the measles immunization rate for Samoan infants has fallen sharply from over 70% in 2013 to less than 30% in the last year.
Helen Petousis-Harris, vaccine expert at Auckland New Zealand University, said the Samoan government discontinued its vaccine program for several months last year after two infants died from a medical mishap of vaccine.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that she would send 3,000 vaccines to Samoa, as well as nurses and medical care.
Ardern said the Samoan authorities believe the outbreak was triggered by a New Zealand traveler.
Of course, we have an open human flow, "said Ardern. "But we see our responsibility in helping Samoa deal with the outbreak, and we're actively doing this."
Petousis-Harris said it was disappointing that people in New Zealand who carried the virus had traveled to Samoa. She said that New Zealand has known for years that it has immunity gaps.
"But we did not look into the problem," she said.
Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand also reported measles outbreaks, but on a smaller scale than in Samoa.