Unvaccinated families told to ‘hang red flag on door’ as measles kills 25 babies

 Twenty five babies have died amid a rising death toll from a measles outbreak that has ripped through Samoa  Authorities in the small Pacific Islands nation have declared an emergency as the death toll climbs to 60 – with the vast majority of those who have lost their lives children aged under five  The country’s government has ordered a two-day shutdown on Thursday local-time, as children aged under 17 are banned from public gatherings, and schools and universities are forced to close amid fears the virus will spread its misery further   The BBC reports that families with unvaccinated members have been asked to hang red flags on their doors as authorities work to contain the virus  Samoa’s government says the flags will help medical teams going door-to-door vaccinating locals in a bid to combat the deadly outbreak, as more than 4,000 people infected out of a population of 200,000  The latest official government figures show 25 babies aged from 0-11 months have died so far Just three of the sixty who have died are older than 20.  Reuters reports that Samoa has been racing to administer vaccines to children since declaring a state of emergency on November 20 and has vaccinated tens of thousands of people so far  International donors including the Red Cross have offered funds and medical assistance alongside specialist teams sent by neighbouring Pacific countries, Australia and New Zealand  The countries and UNICEF have also boosted Samoa’s vaccine supplies, sending thousands more stocks of the jabs to aid the Government as medics race to mass-vaccinate the population  Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads easily through coughing and sneezing  Low vaccination rates pose a threat to babies who are too young to be vaccinated and people with compromise immune systems  Rejection of the childhood jab that prevents the virus’ spread has been widespread and has been blamed for deadly outbreaks worldwide  Health authorities around the globe are struggling to combat debunked anti-vaxxer claims spread on social media that the MMR jab causes autism, and to convince some vaccine-hesitant religious communities to adopt vaccines  Samoa’s vulnerability to measles has risen as the number of people becoming immunised declines in the country  The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said vaccine coverage is at only about 31 per cent in Samoa    Tropical island beauty-spot Samoa is a popular destination with tourists and honeymooners  However the developing nation struggles with persistent poverty and has been ravaged in recent years by deadly cyclones, earthquakes and tsunami  Local reports have cited continued deprivation, dependence on traditional medicine, and problems of vaccine access for families in rural villages as potential factors in the population’s low MMR uptake  The low rates have also been partly blamed on local panic in Samoa following the deaths of two young children last July after they received the MMR jab  While the deaths were later established to have been due to nurses mixing the vaccine with an expired muscle relaxant, rather than water, there are fears the case only contributed to MMR hesitancy in the country  The two nurses involved in the deaths pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were jailed  The outbreak has seen vaccination uptake start to climb, as Samoan officials say the immunisation rate has now reached about 55 per cent due to recent days’ efforts, according to the BBC  Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is vowing to get that figure above 90 per cent  He said: “Our children and people will never become immune to any future epidemic unless we have almost 100 per cent vaccination coverage  “It’s the only antidote.”

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