Samoa announced it would shut down its government for two days so that public officials can combat a dangerous measles outbreak that has that has killed 53 people and infected 3,728.
The Pacific island nation has raced to vaccinate its children and other residents since an outbreak was declared on Oct. 16. Its youngest citizens are at the greatest risk, as 48 of the deaths so far have been children under the age of 4.
On Sunday, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi announced that “all public service and all government services will be closed” on Thursday and Friday “in order to allow all public servants to assist with the mass vaccination campaign throughout the country.”
The government’s closure is the most drastic measure Samoa has taken to combat the outbreak so far. Officials have already begun a mass vaccination campaign aimed at young children and women of childbearing years, inoculating 58,150 people as of Sunday. Children are banned from large public gatherings, and parents have been urged to bring their children to a doctor at the first signs of illness.
Before the epidemic, Samoa’s vaccination rate stood at only 31 percent, according to the World Health Organization, and measles hot spots have emerged throughout Pacific countries where it was once eliminated, including Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
Vaccination coverage has declined in Samoa since 2013, according to WHO and UNICEF data. Fears about the safety of the vaccine accelerated in 2018, after two babies in Samoa died when their vaccinations were mixed incorrectly, the BBC reported.
On Sunday, the prime minister urged Samoans to listen to experts.
“Let us work together to encourage and convince those that do not believe that vaccinations are the only answer the the epidemic,” Tuilaepa said. “Let us not be distracted by the promise of alternative cures.”