The measles, mumps and rubella (M.M.R.) vaccine batch allocated for Samoa has been used in other countries without a problem.
This is the assurance given by Dr. Helen Aspasia Petousis-Harris, who works as a Vaccinologist for the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety.
The New Zealand-based doctor said the vaccine was used for many years in other parts of the world without adverse effects.
“In fact most children in the world receive a variation of these vaccines. We have a vast amount of data about their safety that include millions of people,” she said.
“Serious adverse events are extremely rare, in the order of 1 per million (anaphylaxis, encephalitis). There is an event called idiopathic thrombocytopaenia (I.T.P.) which may occur in about 1 per 30,000 people vaccinated with M.M.R. vaccine, it is not generally life threatening but the person gets some bruising and it resolves or may be treated. Most other events involve fever and or a rash. Adverse events that are caused by the M.M.R. vaccine occur about 1-2 weeks after vaccination, not immediately,” she said.
“That in order for an M.M.R. vaccine to be associated \with a death so quickly like this it would have to be either accidently mixed with another product or contaminated by bacteria due to improper handling and storage. Stored and used appropriately the vaccine cannot cause harm in this way.”
Responding to questions from Samoa Observer following the deaths of two toddlers in Savai’i last Friday, she said a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine called analphylaxis can cause death.
“However, life threatening allergic reactions occur within minutes and are treated immediately by the vaccinator. These events occur in about one per million."
“The description of the recent events at this stage are not consistent with anaphylaxis. There have been examples from other countries where children have died after receiving M.M.R. vaccine and the reasons were those above.”
In a statement issued last night, the Government confirmed that a forensic pathologist and another expert from the World Health Organisation are arriving in Samoa today. They are among the experts including an official from U.N.I.C.E.F. who will provide assistance with the investigation.
The Director General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, assured they are doing everything they can to get to the bottom of what happened.
“The circumstances leading to the unfortunate loss to the grieving families are inconceivable. It’s difficult and impossible to accept. It is sadly regretted by myself and the entire Health Sector,” he is quoted as saying.
“At this time of sadness, we pray that the Lord Almighty will comfort the parents, their families and relatives for their loss. And we want to reassure them that the inquiries should provide closure.”