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Samoa arrests anti-vaxxer amid measles epidemic

December 6, 2019

Samoa has arrested an anti-vaccine campaigner after he reportedly ignored a written warning to stop his activities. The island nation is in the grip of a deadly measles epidemic that has killed scores, mostly children.

Children wait to get vaccinated at a health clinic in Apia, Samoa
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/TVNZ

Samoan authorities on Friday warned that propaganda opposing a mass vaccination drive would not be tolerated after an anti-immunization campaigner was arrested.

Police arrested Edwin Tamasese and charged him with incitement against a government order late on Thursday. The country is struggling to control a measles epidemic that has killed at least 63 people, most of them children.

Read more: WHO cites spike in global measles cases

Details of the arrest were published by an online edition of national newspaper the Samoa Observer.

The paper said Tamasese — who could potentially face up to two years in jail — was arrested after he breached a written warning demanding that he end his anti-vaccination activities.

Tamasese, who has no medical training, has railed against Samoa's vaccination drive and promoted quack remedies such as papaya leaf extract and vitamins to treat measles. He posted a picture on social media of police driving him to the station.

US anti-vaxxers are reportedly swamping Samoan government websites with material described as "nonsense."

Samoa: An anti-vaccine epidemic

Communications Minister Afamasaga Rico Tupai warned that, by spreading false conspiracy theories, anti-vaxxers were hindering the unprecedented public health effort to stop the spread of the disease.

"The anti-vaxxers unfortunately have been slowing us down," Tupai told New Zealand's TVNZ television channel.

Read more: Why measles is so deadly and vaccination so important

"We've had children who have passed away after coming to the hospital as a last resort and then we find out the anti-vaccine message has got to their families and that's why they've kept these kids at home."

Tupai urged anti-vaxxers: "Don't get in the way, don't contribute to the deaths."

Samoa on Friday entered the second day of a lockdown as it administers compulsory vaccinations.

Businesses and non-essential government services have been shut down and residents have been told to obey a dawn-to-dusk curfew and to display a red flag outside their home if they are unvaccinated to alert mobile immunization teams.

However, the infection has continued to spread, with 140 new cases in a 24-hour period, taking the total to 4,357. The death toll crept up by one to 63, with 55 of the fatalities aged four or under.

rc/rt (AFP, EBU)

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