HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly a month after the Samoan government declared a state of emergency, there are signs the country could be turning a corner in its fight against a devastating measles outbreak that has killed 72 people.
In addition to seeing a decrease in the number of new cases that have been reported, authorities with the World Health Organization said Thursday that it had been two days since anyone had died of the infection.
“The vaccination campaign has been ongoing for several weeks now, and it takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to provide immunity,” said Sean Casey, the World Health Organization’s Emergency Response Director. “So I think what we’re seeing now is the work that started several weeks ago, and that’s been growing, and really peaked last week.”
A team of more than 70 medical professionals from Hawaii arrived in Apia last Thursday to take part in the country’s mass vaccination campaign. In two days, the response team helped immunize nearly 34,000 people.
Casey says two of the Hawaii doctors who were part of that contingent continue to work in the pediatric intensive care unit at the island’s main hospital.
“We still have a number of patients in add-on units that have been created, and isolation units that have been created since the start of the outbreak here,” Casey said.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who’s also an emergency room doctor, headed up the medical mission. He says his biggest takeaway from the trip is that vaccinations are critical in preventing an epidemic.
“We do have areas of Hawaii that are under immunized,” said Lt. Gov. Green. “I saw what a whole society being ravaged by measles looks like, and it’s not pretty. It would overwhelm our hospitals. It would overwhelm our pediatricians, too. So we should immunize ourselves.”
In the meantime, medical teams continue to go door-to-door in Samoa providing vaccines to anyone who needs them.
“They’re reaching smaller numbers of people everyday, just because so many have already been vaccinated,” said Casey. “Hopefully we’ll see the end of this before too long.”
The World Health Organization confirms American Samoa is ramping up it’s vaccination efforts as well. So far there have been nine confirmed cases on the neighboring island, though officials believe a number them originated in Samoa.