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Samoa shuts down as government fights measles

Samoa measles crisis shuts down island nation after 62 people die as workers are told to stay inside for two days and put RED FLAGS outside their homes if they need MMR vaccinations

  • Pacific island will be on lockdown Thursday and Friday, officials have revealed
  • Will remain on lockdown until weekend as it tries to immunise entire population
  • Eerie red flags hang outside homes signalling families have not received jabs 

Samoa has been shut down after officials ordered everyone to stay indoors amid a measles epidemic that has killed 62 people.

The Pacific island is on lock down for two days as emergency workers go door-to-door trying to give all residents the MMR jab.

Shops, schools and roads have all been closed, to allow the government to focus on containing the deadly outbreak.

Families have been asked to hang red flags from their homes to signal they have not been vaccinated. Samoa will stay on lockdown on Thursday and Friday.

Families have been asked to hang red flags from their homes to signal they have not been immunised 

A young boy winces as he gets his MMR vaccine during a nationwide fight against measles in the Samoan town of Le’auva’a

The island has been turned to a ghost town with roads, schools and shops closed (pictured, a red flag hangs outside a cafe)

Road have been closed and the nation’s government has shut down as emergency workers go door-to-door vaccinating residents 

A total of 62 people have been killed in a matter of weeks since then – 54 of whom are babies and children under four

Only a third of the 200,000 residents on the island had received both their MMR jabs before the outbreak in October.

A total of 62 people have been killed in a matter of weeks since then – 54 of whom are babies and children under four.

Another 172 people remain in hospitals, including 19 children in critical condition. It now means more than 4,000 people have contracted the disease.

The World Health Organisation said anti-vaccination propaganda was reversing decades of efforts to eradicate the infectious disease.

The Samoa Observer newspaper said the normally bustling capital Apia was a ghost town on Thursday, with only birds nesting in the rooftops and stray dogs roaming the streets.

Prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi told reporters the vaccine drive was unprecedented and has never happened before in the nation’s history.

He said: ‘They [the Samoan public] seem to take a kind of lackadaisical attitude to all the warnings that we had issued through the television and also through the radio.’

The vast majority of the outbreak has taken place on the island of Upolu, which is known for its white sand beaches

Another 172 people remain in hospitals, including 19 children in critical condition. Seven-month-old Tiresa Muliselu receiving care at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital in the capital Apia

A nurse vaccinates residents at the Poutasi district hospital in the Samoan town of Poutasi

One-year-old Sanele screams as she receives her MMR vaccination at the Poutasi district hospital


Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from an infected person by coughing, sneezing or even just breathing.

Symptoms develop between six and 19 days after infection, and include a runny nose, cough, sore eyes, a fever and a rash.

The rash appears as red and blotchy marks on the hairline that travel down over several days, turning brown and eventually fading. 

Some children complain of disliking bright lights or develop white spots with red backgrounds on their tongue.

In one in 15 cases, measles can cause life-threatening complications including pneumonia, convulsions and encephalitis.

Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of the Encephalitis Society told MailOnline: ‘Measles can be very serious. 

‘[It] can cause encephalitis which is inflammation of the brain. 

‘Encephalitis can result in death or disability.’

Treatment focuses on staying hydrated, resting and taking painkillers, if necessary.

Measles can be prevented by receiving two vaccinations, the first at 13 months old and the second at three years and four months to five years old.

Source: Great Ormond Street Hospital 

The leader said another challenge was that people had been seeking help from traditional healers on the back of anti-vaccination propaganda.

He added: ‘Some of our people pay a visit to traditional healers thinking that measles is a typical tropical disease, which it is not.’

Fears were raised about the MMR vaccination in Samoa last year when two babies died within minutes of receiving the jab.

The government briefly suspended its immunisation programme while the cases were investigated.

When it later emerged the babies were killed by a medical blunder, the public’s trust in the jab had already been dented.

Authorities believe the virus was first spread by a traveller from New Zealand, which suffered a smaller outbreak in September.   

Jose Hagan, WHO medical officer for the western Pacific, said the outbreak in Samoa was a grim reminder of the danger posed by ‘probably the most infectious disease we know of’. 

‘Unfortunately the case (to) fatality rate of measles is much higher than people realise,’ he told Radio New Zealand.

‘This is quite a severe disease and we just aren’t used to seeing it, so it comes as quite a surprise when we see how fatal it can be.’

He said the fatality rate in Samoa was less than two per cent, but it has been known to reach five per cent in developing countries.

Mr Hagen said increased access to measles vaccines was estimated to have saved 21million lives over the past 20 years.

‘But we are starting to have a slide back and there are outbreaks happening all over the world in all WHO regions and it’s leading to the virus being exported through international travel,’ he said. 

Cases have skyrocketed in Europe, leading to Britain, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania all losing their measles-free status in August.

The US narrowly maintained its ‘measles eliminated’ status a few months later, despite experiencing its worst outbreak since 1992.

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