Samoa Health Ministry worried with immunisation suspension order to stop only for MMR

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APIA,13 SEPTEMBER 2018 (SAMOA OBSERVER) – Samoa Ministry of Health did not suspend the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) programme following the deaths of two toddlers in Safotu, Savaii earlier this year.

However, Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thompson said the stop order was specifically for the Mumps, Measles and Rubella (MMR) vaccines.

Tagaloa was responding to a question on the suspension posed by the Commission of Inquiry’s Chairman, Tuiloma Neroni Slade during the Ministry of Health’s submission.

The Ministry was represented by the ACEO for Nursing and Midwife of the Ministry of Health, Fuata’i Taulealo-Maiava, Rumanusina Maua, who was acting on behalf of the Director General Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, and Tagaloa.

“This stop order is for the MMR 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 (NHS) 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 MMR vaccinations.”

Tagaloa said the stop order for the MMR vaccines was the direction from the ministry to be implemented nationwide and health service providers were informed.

“The MMR vaccine is only administered at the age of 12 months with the doze one and 15 months the doze two and we all do catch up campaign to catch up all the children that have not received the MMR. vaccines now,” Tagaloa said.

“However, stopping all the other vaccines that should be administered to the child at six weeks up to six months is where the major concern of the Ministry is at this stage, so I want to clarify that the Ministry of Health issued a nationwide stop order for the MMR vaccine only.”

“Unfortunately at this stage, the whole immunisation programme is suspended by the National Health Services because we thought we are on the same understanding that M.M.R. vaccine is the only vaccine suspended.”

“But unfortunately, the Ministry of Health only found out last week that it is not only the MMR vaccine that’s being suspended but the whole EPI programme that’s being suspended.”

NHS General Manager, Palanitina Tupuimatagi Toelupe made an attempt to comment on the issue, but Tuiloma requested for a written submission if they wish to respond.

“We do not wish to prevent any comment or evidence coming before this Commission and we also do not wish to engage in an exchange of use beyond the formalities of this inquiry,” Tuiloma said.

Meanwhile, Samoa Ministry of Health shares the same concerns as the Commission of Inquiry regarding the suspension of immunisation programme by the National Health Services for a protracted and unspecified time.

Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thompson made this statement during the Ministry of Health’s submission to the Commission.

“The MMR vaccines specifically and the Ministry also noted as a concern this part, however we are more concerned about the other vaccines which are administered at an earlier age of the child,” said Tagaloa.

He informed the Commission that the concern was raised by the Pediatric Unit regarding infants being admitted in hospital for pertussis.

“Our major concern is not really with the MMR infections but more towards the other infections and as of Friday last week, I received notification from the Pediatric Unit raising concern with pertussis, as they start to see a number of young infants less than 10 months old coming in with pertussis.”

“Pertussis is another virus that is prevented through immunisation. It is a disease that has no cure and, it’s part of the EPI programme and that is where the greater concern for the Ministry comes in.”

“The disease is also known as ‘whooping cough’ and it is mainly known to the people of Samoa as (kale vivigi). It is a highly contagious respiratory disease and it is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.”

“It is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing, which often makes it hard to breathe.”

Tuiloma then asked the Ministry of Health on what recommendations they come up with to resolve this issue.

“Our recommendation is to restart the EPI programme overall and we are looking at restarting the MMR vaccine together with the EPI programme overall,” Tagaloa responded.

“We recommend to maybe bring in new batches for the MMR vaccines and not to use the patch that we have at the moment until the process is complete.”

“The Ministry is also in discussion on how to regain the public trust back to the MMR vaccine and the EPI Programme overall.”

“But definitely we need to restart the EPI Programme overall and look at the specific MMR vaccines and to start that as soon as possible,” he said.

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