Measles deaths in Samoa rise to 42 as officials blame anti-vaxxers

Measles death toll in Samoa rises to 42 as officials blame anti-vaxxers and UK sends doctors to try and stop the outbreak

  • Thirty-eight of victims have been children under age of four, and most are babies
  • Number of cases surged by 213 in 24-hour period yesterday, taking total to 3,149
  • Officials blamed anti-vaccination movement sparked by baby deaths last year

Anti-vaxxers have been blamed for a killer measles outbreak in Samoa that has killed 42 people, the majority of whom were children under four. 

Low vaccination rates have allowed the disease to spread rapidly and infect thousands in a matter of weeks. 

The number of cases on the Pacific island surged by 213 in a 24-hour period yesterday, taking the total to 3,149.  

Eighteen of those to die had not reached their first birthday – a further 20 were between one and four. 

Samoa’s government has declared a state of emergency on the island, closing schools, banning children from public places and ordering everyone to have jabs. 

Officials blamed an anti-vaccination movement for causing jab rates to plummet – in 2018 only a third of children under five had theirs.  

The death toll of a killer measles outbreak in Samoa has risen to 42 and more than 3,149 people have been infected (file)

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

Fears were raised about the MMR vaccination 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 been dented. 

Kate O’Brien, director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) immunisation department, said the anti-vax movement has ‘had a very remarkable impact on the immunisation programme’ in Samoa.

The disease is believed to have spread from New Zealand, which suffered a measles outbreak in September.  

The Samoan government has scrambled to vaccinate a quarter of the population (57,000 out of 200,000) since the outbreak began. But overstretched medical services are struggling to contain the outbreak. 

Measles is a life-threatening and highly contagious virus that results in a large rash (stock image of measles)

A team of British doctors and nurses were dispatched to the pacific nation on Friday morning to help tackle the crisis.

The group of 13 left for the Pacific nation from Manchester Airport and are heading to the main hospital in Samoa’s capital Apia to start vaccinating children.

International Development Secretary Alok Sharma said: ‘This deadly measles outbreak is having a devastating impact on the people of Samoa, particularly children, who urgently need our help.

‘The UK is stepping up to do all we can to prevent the further loss of life.’ 

Measles has been largely wiped out in developed countries like the US and UK thanks to national vaccination programs, but it is deadly and spreads extremely fast in areas where people haven’t had the jab.  

Children are the most vulnerable to the disease, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

Schools and kindergartens have been closed and children have been banned from public gatherings, such as church services, to minimise the risk of contagion. 


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 

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