Samoa measles crisis: Vaccines taken, destroyed in midst of outbreak

Correction: This article was amended on November 26 because the Director-General of Health incorrectly told media 6000 vaccines were taken. The correct figure is 60 doses.

Health officials in Samoa have begun an investigation after measles vaccines were taken without official authorisation from the hospital and administered for a fee at unregistered clinics.

Sixty vaccines had to be destroyed because they were not being stored correctly at the suspect clinics.

It comes as the crisis only worsens in Samoa, with 25 now confirmed dead and hundreds of new patients overloading hospitals.

There are scenes of distress and a sense of urgency on the frontline of Samoa's measles emergency.

It's at times overwhelming, even for the Kiwi support teams that are now on the ground. There are eight doctors, nurses and logistics staff on the ground from New Zealand helping currently. In total, 45 Kiwi staff will work in rotation to assist local staff over the next month.

Dr Scott Wilson, originally from Ashburton, is part of the New Zealand medical assistance team working around the clock at a rural hospital to help administer vaccines to prevent illness and care for those already critically unwell.

"These hospitals are not designed to deal with this. The minute you get hospitals running at 200 to 300 percent capacity - I think it speaks for itself. It's incredibly serious," he says.

"There have been a few tears. We have admitted at times multiple members of the same family. At one point we had five members of the same family in here."

This hospital has never seen numbers like this - 400 to 500 patients are getting vaccinated every day. On top of that, doctors and nurses are dealing with up to 38 patients a day who are turning up seriously unwell at the emergency department.

As the days go by, the situation is only getting more serious. The health ministry says it's recorded 2194 measles cases so far, with 144 cases reported in just the past 24 hours.

"Most of our admissions now are becoming very severe. Unlike the status of the first admissions," says Director General Of Health, Dr Take Naseri.

So far, 15,000 people have received vaccinations as part of the campaign.

Dr Naseri says unregistered vaccinators were charging patients for injections - this when all vaccines from official sources are free.

"I don't know how they are getting it. So it has come from something that is not proper. So there is an investigation going on," he says.

Sixty doses were seized but then destroyed as they hadn't been kept in proper chilled storage.

But for those getting proper authorised treatment, it's clear they're grateful, especially for Evelyn Laulu and her seven-year-old daughter who arrived at the hospital three days ago critically ill.

"I got so scared. And I thank the hands of the doctors - they worked miracles. And I'm so happy," Laulu says.

Happy and grateful to have the support of a team that's so dedicated - and is saving lives every day in Samoa.

More than 2000 cases have been reported and a worrying trend is the case numbers are accumulating rapidly - in the last 24 hours 144 cases have been reported.

Sadly many people are leaving it too late, turning up to hospital with advanced complications like pneumonia.

The director-general of health told Newshub he is frustrated many are still relying on traditional healers rather than getting the measles vaccine which is proven to prevent infection and save lives.

**This story has been edited to reflect that the Samoan Government says the vaccines were taken from the hospital without official  authorisation and whether they were stolen is part of an investigation that's ongoing. 

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