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Measles outbreak in Samoa kills at least 63 people, mostly young children

Posted: 2:25 PM, Dec 07, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-07 16:26:04-05
Photo: CBS News

A massive and deadly measles outbreak in Samoa has forced the government of the South Pacific nation to shut down all public services. The disease has infected more than 4,300 people on the islands.

At least 63 people have died. Most of them were 4 years old or younger.

"It's very hard to lose a child," said one mother, crying. Her 1-year-old daughter died after getting the disease. "We have a lot of dreams that we need to fulfill for our little ones, but once they lost, we don't know what to do."

The Samoan government declared a national emergency last month and mandated that all 200,000 people living on the islands get vaccinated. It also closed all schools and banned children from public gatherings, CBS affiliate KGMB correspondent Allyson Blair reports.

Red flags hang outside hundreds of homes across the islands, a sign to health officials that the people who live there need measles vaccines. Medical teams were going door-to-door screening for the disease and giving vaccines in an effort the islands' prime minister called "unprecedented."

Only about 30% of residents were vaccinated when the epidemic exploded last month. That's down from 90% in 2013. The drop may be partly to blame on fears that spread in 2018 when two babies died in Samoa after being immunized. Officials later determined doctors had incorrectly mixed the vaccine with other medicines.

Hospitals on the main island are now inundated with patients. "These hospitals aren't designed to deal with this," Dr. Scott Wilson said. "The minute you're getting hospitals running at 200 and 300% capacity. I think that speaks for itself."

In the midst of the national health crisis, officials hope the outbreak will prompt change.

"They are open to being vaccinated. A lot of them have heard the word and are now realizing the importance of being vaccinated," said Fonoifafo Mcfarland-Seumanu, a nurse.

Measles cases have been on the rise around the globe. Last year, UNICEF confirmed nearly 350,000 cases, more than double the previous year. Health officials say measles is a disease that is entirely preventable, as long as you're vaccinated.

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