The anti-vax movement causes an epidemic in Samoa

SAMOA’S STREETS are silent. The only busy spots are the country’s hospitals, where fearful families queue for vaccinations. An epidemic of the measles has so far produced 4,000 infections and 60 deaths, in a country of 200,000 people. The government has announced a state of emergency, closed all schools and banned private vehicles from the roads. People have been told to stay in their homes, and hang red cloths in front of them to indicate the presence of unvaccinated residents. Mobile vaccination units are touring the country in a mandatory mass inoculation campaign.

Measles has spread so rapidly in Samoa because only a small proportion of children has been vaccinated. The World Health Organisation estimates that just 31% of infants received the vaccine in 2018, down from 90% in 2013. Distrust of the health system was fuelled by the death last year of two babies who had mistakenly been administered a muscle relaxant along with the vaccine. In response, the government put measles vaccinations on hold. Anti-vax activists spread false rumours that hospitals were using faulty or expired vaccines and, as in other countries, repeated the debunked claim that immunisation is linked to autism.

Although the nurses responsible for the botched vaccinations were tried and imprisoned, many Samoans remained suspicious. Some responded...

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