Update on the Samoa Vaccine Tragedy

Breaking News – the inquiry into the deaths of two infants a few months ago continues to be delayed, all immunizations were halted by mistake, not just MMR and kids are starting to get vaccine preventable diseases (see below).

Many people remember that two young children died in Samoa in early July, shortly after getting an MMR vaccine.

Two toddlers died after being vaccinated at Safotu Hospital in Samoa.
Two toddlers died after being vaccinated at Safotu Hospital in Samoa.

Both incidents happened on the same day in the same hospital on the island of Savai’i.

“Until the investigations have been completed and reported on we cannot say what did happen.

However, given the batch of vaccine involved had been in use in that country since August last year, and given the same batch of vaccine has been used in South American countries and the Caribbean island nations without incident, it seems unlikely that there was anything wrong with the vaccine.

The reports from the parents of the children affected on Friday indicate the reactions occurred within minutes after vaccination. This would preclude a response to the vaccine viruses as this takes at least a week. While anaphylaxis occurs within minutes and can be fatal when not treated the odds of seeing this twice in a day at the same place, given a chance of 1 in a million doses, is literally astronomical.”

Dr. Helen Petousis Harrison on What happened in Samoa?

And while many people have speculated on what had happened, we didn’t get much new information until the Attorney General Lemalu Herman Retzlaff issued a press statement:

It can be confirmed that one of the nurses involved with the vaccination injections of the two babies who passed away 6th July 2018, was charged by police on Saturday 4th August 2018. She is set to appear in Court 14th August 2018, where the charges will be confirmed publicly.

According to AG Lemalu, “the file was referred to this office for advice last week, after swift and hard-working investigations by the CID section of the Ministry of Police both in Apia and Savaii, which is to be commended.”

“And the decision to charge was thereafter supported by advice; and it is also confirmed by Police, that investigations are still active and on-going.”

Both nurses have now been charged and both have entered not guilty pleas to charges of manslaughter, negligence and conspiracy to defeat the course of justice.

A trial is set for January 21, 2019.

Apparently though, an ongoing investigation into the deaths of the two toddlers that had been adjourned until September 12, as they were still waiting on the the post mortem reports from the pathologist in Australia, has been suspended even further.

“The inquiry into the deaths of two babies in Samoa has been suspended until further information is available from post mortem results”

Delays in Samoa deaths inquiry

So, we still don’t know what happened.

Were the vaccines contaminated somehow?

Was an error made?

Why were the nurses charged with manslaughter? Many think the main issue is that the nurses continued to use the MMR vaccine even after the first baby died.

“This particular vaccine batch lot arrived to Samoa in August 2017 and has been in use since then. The same vaccine batch lot used in Samoa is also in use in a number of South American and Caribbean countries (Belize, Ecuador, St. Vincent, Trinidad Tobago, Chile, Aruba, Dutch Antilles, St. Kitts & Nevis and Cuba) with no reports of adverse events from those countries.”

Government of Samoa – Ministry of Health Press Statement

Whatever happened, it is important to remember that these kinds of tragedies are very rare and that vaccines are safe.

There certainly doesn’t seem to be a good reason to continue to halt all vaccinations in Samoa!

“This stop order is for the M.M.R. to be put on hold for the time being until the case and the investigation are completed,” said Tagaloa.

“But in relation to other vaccines, the ministry did not have any stop order on this. We advise that the other vaccination still continue, especially the vaccinations relating to newborns.”

He added the stop order in question was issued by the National Health Service (N.H.S.) and it involves all vaccinations from the day of the incident.

“But we have already advised them to continue with the other vaccines except for the M.M.R. vaccinations.”

Order to stop immunisation only for M.M.R.

Vaccinations in Samoa, except for MMR, will resume thanks to a push by their Nurses Association.

What’s next? The post mortem results and the trial. Hopefully they don’t wait until the trial to resume MMR vaccinations though…

More on Samoa Vaccine Tragedy

Updated on September 30, 2018

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