Health authorities have banned all children’s vaccinations in Samoa following the sudden deaths of multiple toddlers minutes after receiving the MMR vaccine.
A full inquiry into the circumstances of the deaths has also been launched at the request of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi.
The situation reached breaking point in Samoa after two children, both aged 1, died minutes after receiving an MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination at Safotu Hospital, in Savaii, on Friday.
The toddlers have been identified as Lannacallystah Samuelu, daughter of Marietta and Samuelu Tuisuesue, and Lameko Si’u, son of Punipuao and Timua Si’u.
New Zealand Herald reports: News of the deaths began to spread over the weekend after family members posted photos of the dead children – one wrapped in the arms of his distraught mother – on Facebook.
The public was officially informed by authorities yesterday, when Samoa’s Ministry of Health chief, Dr Leausa Toleafoa Take Naseri, announced that all MMR vaccines in the country were to be seized after the deaths.
The nurses who administered the vaccinations have been stood down for their own safety and were being supported, he told local media.
Families of the youngsters told TV1 Samoa they had made formal complaints with local police and were calling for investigations into their children’s deaths.
The mother of one child told the station she asked that her son not get the vaccination after learning about the death of the little girl, which had occurred about two hours earlier at the same hospital.
It is alleged the nurse insisted that the vaccination go ahead and was given without consent.
Speaking to TV1 Samoa, a distraught Punipuao Si’u described the events immediately after her son was given the shot.
“We walked out. It hadn’t been a minute since we’d sat down on the chair outside the hospital when I saw his head fall and his eyes close.
“I ran back into the hospital. I cried and watched as they worked on my son. I asked: ‘How is my baby?’
“I came outside. I walked back in and asked: ‘How is my baby?’ And the doctor/ nurse said: ‘He’s finished’.
“They didn’t say anything to break it to me gently or calm my heart, they just said: ‘He’s finished’.”
In a statement, Malielegaoi described the incidents as “devastating” and said he was not taking this lightly.
“There are already processes that will determine if negligence is a factor,” he said.
“And if so, rest assured those processes will be implemented to the letter – to ensure that such a tragedy will not be repeated and those responsible will be made to answer.”
Malielegaoi revealed that one of his own grandsons was affected a number of years ago “under similar circumstances.”
He said his grandson survived after proper treatment but that: “He will never be the same, as he has lost the ability to speak.”