Too Early To Predict Measles Epidemic Run

About the author:

Mataeliga Pio Sioa, Newsline Samoa newspaper editor. A veteran journalist in broadcast and print media.

  • Vacciation in the region - photo WHO
    Vacciation in the region - photo WHO

Daily monitoring of new suspected cases of the measles and the rate they are coming in and from where, are the primary focus by local health officials, keeping track of the epidemic spread.

The 3-weeks old outbreak may have killed two children and an adult already, with 15 confirmed cases and up to 300 suspected so far.

“It’s too early to predict how long the epidemic will run, but our main worry is the pause we had in our MMR vaccination programme for about a year,” Ministry of Health CEO, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri worried.

The administration of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella, MMR, vaccination of one year old babies was suspended last year, when two children died last year in July in Savaii.

Another major worry for the Ministry of Health is that the general vaccination coverage in the country is not at the ideal level.

“We have not been able to vaccinate up to 90 percent of the country, we need to reach up to 92 - 95 per cent or upwards,” Leausa explained.

A higher number of people vaccinated provides what he described as the ‘herd immunity.’

This is where the high rate of people who are vaccinated offers protection to the few who have not had their injections, according to the head of Health.

The ‘herd immunity’ according to Leausa may have helped delay the spread of the measles virus to Samoa from New Zealand, where they have a high vaccination rate.

“I think the New Zealand outbreak was last June-July and it’s now up to 2000 cases, yet it has just now spilled over to us in October.

“ So our MMR vaccination pause and our low vaccination coverage are the main factors we have to include in our calculations of how long the measles epidemic will run.”

Health monitoring have already identified the densely population residential areas at Vaitele and Vailele with the most number of suspected cases.

In a related development, a New Zealand immunologist, Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris has lashed out at the epidemic reaching Samoa from New Zealand.

"I feel deeply ashamed and incredibly angry that this has happened because it was absolutely predictable," Dr. Petousis-Harris was quoted by the New Zealand media.

The health official’s outburst dates back to the 1918 flu epidemic reaching Samoa from New Zealand that wiped out 22 per cent of the local population at the time

"It was inevitable that we would export this to Samoa. The situation in Samoa is well known that they have very low levels of immunity there."

Measles is the most contagious disease known to man and in an unimmunised population the infection spreads rapidly, she said.

"A singe case can infect on average a further 12 to 18 others. So it virtually explodes. And the only way to prevent that is to have at least 95 percent of your population immune to stop it from spreading."

Successive New Zealand governments had failed their closest neighbour, the immunologist said.

"I think ultimately we need to look to our leaders. [Not] the current leadership, or the one before... We've known about these problems for 20 years, so where are you going to place [sic] the buck?

"We've had 20 years to do something about this. This is something we could have done a lot better on."