Samoa declared a state of emergency this weekend, shutting down all schools and firing at public gatherings following several deaths related to measles outbreaks that spread across the Pacific Islands.
The island nation of just 200,000, south of the equator and halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, declared a measles epidemic in late October after the first deaths were reported.
Since then, at least six deaths, mostly newborns under two, have been linked to an epidemic, a health ministry statement said late last week. Of the 716 suspected cases of measles, 40 percent require hospitalization.
At the weekend, vaccination "for members of the public who have not yet received a vaccine injection is now a mandatory statutory requirement," the government said in a statement. Only about two-thirds of the population is vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Health.
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"The way it is going now and the poor (immunization) coverage, we expect the worst to come," the Health Ministry's Leosa Health Director General, Leusa, Daus Nasseri, was quoted as saying.
He added that the children who died were not vaccinated.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said on Friday his country was sending 3,000 vaccines and 12 nurses to Samoa to help the outbreak.
"Measles is highly contagious and the epidemic has claimed lives in Samoa," Peters said in a statement. "It is in everyone's interest to work together to stop it spreading."
Measles cases are rising globally, including in wealthy nations such as the United States and Germany, where some parents avoid immunization mostly for philosophical or religious reasons, or concern, free from medical science, that such vaccines can cause autism.
In Tonga, about 900km (559.23 miles) from Samoa, the health ministry said last week that a measles outbreak in the country came after a Tongan rugby team returned from New Zealand.
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Since then, 251 cases of confirmed or suspected measles have been identified, the ministry said in a statement.
American Samoa, US territory neighboring Samoa, declared public health on Thursday following the outbreak of measles in Samoa and Tonga, New Zealand media reported.
According to Nasseri of Samoa, about 90% of the population in Tonga and American Samoa have not been vaccinated, and none of these countries have reported measles-related deaths.