As measles death toll grows, some travelers urged to stay away from Samoa

Travel waivers offered as Samoa continues its fight against a deadly measles outbreak

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Health officials are urging some travelers to stay away from Samoa and American Samoa as the neighboring islands continue to battle a measles outbreak.

At least 70 people have died from the infectious virus in Samoa, while nine cases have been reported in American Samoa.

The immunization rate in American Samoa is much higher, but the government is still being extra cautious.

American Samoa health officials say all incoming travelers -- who have recently visited Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, or Tonga -- must show proof that they received a measles vaccination at least 14 days prior to their arrival date, otherwise they will be denied entry.

Honolulu businessman Scott Wallace, who owns a movie theater in Pago Pago, is supposed to fly there on Monday afternoon, but says he can't because he got his vaccine too close to his departure date.

“I got my shot last Monday which puts me at about 7 or 8 days,” Wallace said. “I can’t go to Pago Pago because I’ll be denied entry once I get there, so I’m going to go ahead and call my travel agent on Monday.”

Wallace says he tried calling Hawaiian Airlines about his flight, but says the customer service representative didn't have any information about the measles outbreak.

While its service is unaffected, Hawaiian Airlines has since issued a travel advisory and is waiving change fees for passengers with flights to and from American Samoa between December 9 to December 31.

Wallace says his colleague on the ground right now in Pago Pago told him it's a ghost town.

"He said he's living off a diet of cookies and chips because nothing's open. We've been notified that the police have shut down the movie theater operation based on the epidemic, and they've also shut down all other places of public gatherings," Wallace said.

Hawaii's Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, who just returned from a two-day medical mission to Samoa, says now is not the time to visit.

“If you’re not immunized, don’t go,” said Green. “Don’t go, period. There were strains of pneumonia that people got after they got measles. Some of those pneumonias were so strong, they were unlike strains I had ever seen here in Hawaii or across America. They will kill you.”

After administering almost 34,000 measles vaccines in a 48-hour period, Green says it's difficult to predict what the people of Samoa will need in the coming weeks.

“The deaths will still go up slightly because it takes a few days for full immunity to catch on, then they’ll drop off to nothing hopefully. (Samoa) went from about 30 percent of the country was immunized to 90 percent of the country in two days,” Green said.

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