Measures against measles are getting serious on the streets of Samoa, where an ongoing outbreak has already taken the lives of at least 63 people.
Families in the Pacific island nation have been asked to hang red flags outside their homes as a sign that members of their household need vaccination, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Vaccinations were made mandatory for everyone in Samoa last month in an attempt to boost their low vaccination rate, which plummeted to just 31 percent in recent years. For context, the WHO says vaccination coverage must be over 95 percent in a population to effectively prevent a mass outbreak.
The red flag scheme has been encouraged by the WHO and the Samoan government as a part of the Door to Door Mass Vaccination Campaign in Samoa – and it seems to be doing a remarkable job so far.
Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister of Samoa, has announced today that 17,551 vaccines were administered on December 5 as part of the campaign, while over 3,000 more were given on the morning of December 6.
The Samoan Observer reports that more than 40,000 people have been vaccinated over the past couple of days, but the Ministry of Health still needs to verify these figures. Despite the progress, Prime Minister Tuilaepa said there is much more work to be done, adding he won’t be content until the nation has 100 percent vaccine coverage.
"I am not proud. I am only proud when we do 100 percent," he said at a press conference, according to The Samoan Observer. "My pride is yet to be determined because I still don't know what percentage we have achieved. It's quite possible we achieved 101."
The Samoa Ministry of Health declared a measles outbreak on October 16. As of December 5, the latest government statistics available, there have been a total of 4,357 confirmed measles cases since the outbreak, with 140 cases recorded in the last 24 hours. There have also been 63 measles-related deaths recorded, the vast majority of which were children younger than 5 years old.
Meanwhile, the government of Samoa had issued a two-day curfew on Thursday and Friday to combat a measles outbreak and ordered all public services to shut down, turning the usually bustling streets to what looked like a post-apocalyptical ghost town.
In this midst of this push to curb the outbreak, a leading anti-vaxxer activist has been arrested this week and charged with incitement against a government order by spreading conspiracy theories about vaccine safety, according to The Samoan Observer.
UNICEF’s Pacific Islands chief has also urged social media giants to crack down on the “incredibly irresponsible” anti-vaccine misinformation spreading on their platforms.