Samoa measles outbreak: Death toll rises to 53, mostly children

Samoa is rolling out a mass vaccination program in a bid to limit the spread of a deadly measles outbreak

A fishing boat is seen in the early morning near Taumeasina Island Resort in Apia, Samoa on September 8, 2017.

There have been 48 measles-related deaths in Samoa since the outbreak was declared by the Ministry of Health on October 16.

The death toll from a measles outbreak in Samoa has increased to 53, after five children died from the infection the day before, while authorities step up efforts to vaccinate the entire population against the deadly disease.

Samoa's vulnerability has risen as the number of people becoming immunized declines, with the World Health Organization saying vaccine coverage is only about 31%.

The numbers continue to climb as national and worldwide medics race against the clock to immunise the most vulnerable in the small Pacific Island nation.

"We are still having church services but if it gets worse we will have to stop church altogether - and it's nearly Christmas".

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The vast majority of deaths were of children, with 48 under the age of four dying from the disease, according to a government update.

Measles cases are on the rise globally, even in rich countries like Germany and the United States, because parents avoid vaccination for philosophical or religious reasons, or doctors have revealed fears that such vaccines could trigger autism. Since Saturday, 173 new cases of measles have been registered and four people have died.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist at the University of Auckland, said there were pockets of the community where immunisation rates had slipped, allowing the disease to take hold. However, no deaths were reported and a higher coverage rate was found in the countries.

The government launched a compulsory vaccination program on November 20 after proclaiming a state of emergency due to the outbreak.

Samoa's government is to shut down on Thursday and Friday this week so as all public sector workers can help with the country's mass measles vaccination campaign.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pre-empted a growing death toll, listing a 54-strong Kiwi medical contingent on the ground on top of funding and medical supplies her country had delivered.

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