OPINION: We have watched and listened with increasing horror these last few weeks as measles has taken hold in the land where so many of us have a heritage - Samoa.
The numbers are quite horrendous and seem to get worse by the day. Thirty two people have died of measles since the outbreak last month. Nearly 2500 people have been infected, 243 of them yesterday.
It is an epidemic, a state of emergency and a threat to life.Worse, it was most likely brought to the island nation by people on a flight from New Zealand where we’ve had a serious measles epidemic this year.
Samoa’s issue is that as a developing nation, and not an especially wealthy one, it had a very low vaccination rate.
According to UNICEF, between 28 and 40 percent of the population were immunised against measles before this outbreak began, although the Samoan Government reckoned it was up in the 65 percent range.
But either way, when a contagious disease like measles arrived in the country, the chances of it spreading were quite high.
The reason New Zealand had nearly a thousand cases of measles this year was that for various reasons, the immunisation rate in this country dropped down into the low to mid-80 percent range.
It had been well above 90 percent, and we had effectively eliminated the disease at the turn of the millenium.
But for a variety of reasons, including a lack of parental responsibility, the unavailability of vaccine and mad and rabid anti-vax propaganda, our vaccination rate dropped. Measles returned and has now spread to a nation that is one of our closest friends with devastating consequences.
So quite rightly, in an effort to save and enhance the lives of its people - which is the primary role of any government - the Samoan government has made vaccination compulsory. I mean what else could a government do?
But that is not enough to satisfy an Australian woman who is now emerging as a menace to humanity. Her name is Taylor Winterstein.
Now Taylor Winsterstein has some sort of profile as a WAG - she is the wife of an NRL player named Frank Winterstein, who plays for Penrith and for Samoa, even though he is Australian born and previously played for the Australian sevens team.
But his wife I’m afraid is quite delusional. She is a fervent anti-vaxxer, she has 25,000 followers on Instagram and she has insulted the Samoan nation by calling it Nazi Samoa in a now deleted post on Instagram.
Samoa has a serious, serious issue. The population of the country is only 200,000 and over one percent of them have measles. I reiterate, 32 people have died.
Those pictures on the news again last night were just heartbreaking, poor little kids covered in spots, grieving parents and other adults beside the body of a child who had died of the disease.
How much more suffering, how much more death will it take before these mad people are convinced.
Taylor Winterstein describes herself as a qualified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach who says that "the benefits of vaccines are constantly over exaggerated and the risk of adverse reaction is severely played down by politicians, journalists and GPs. The dogmatic mantra vaccines are safe and effective doesn’t leave much room for a productive or objective conversation."
Now she is not medically qualified in that she has not trained as any sort of health professional. She has previously run seminars at $200 a head, which, to be fair to her are not saying don’t vaccinate your child, but rather make up your own mind and have a good long think about it before you do.
She hasn’t vaccinated either of her kids - which is her choice, but she’s lucky in that she lives in a country with a high vaccination rate, and therefore because of that, the chances of her kids getting measles is low.
But her comments about Samoa are just appalling, and frankly downright dangerous. She’s claiming that ambulances are doing drive-bys to find unvaccinated children and that police are willing to arrest anyone who dares to speak up. That’s why she calls the place Nazi Samoa.
Now I don’t know if those things are actually happening there, but when children are dying, when one in a hundred of the population is sick and the disease is still spreading - and it’s almost certainly the fault of New Zealand - then I think a woman like this must be roundly condemned.
As you know I’m a free speech advocate, I believe in people having a right to say controversial things and express unpopular views, but I don’t believe in comments which can bring harm upon people - and that’s what these words are doing.
Taylor Winterstein was going to speak in New Zealand earlier this year but cancelled her appearances. I think she knew the reception was not going to be very positive.
So what do you think of women like her? How do you feel about the situation in Samoa? Do you feel guilty as a New Zealander that the appalling outbreak in Samoa probably came from our slackness this past winter? Is this whole sad Samoa situation the wake-up call that this country needs on measles vaccination?
Peter Williams is the host of Magic Mornings on Magic Talk.