By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – TUESDAY 10 JULY 2018: A human error and contamination could be the cause of death of two Samoan babies who died minutes after being vaccinated MMR at the Safotu Hospital last Friday morning.
A Vaccinologist at the University of Auckland who is also the Director of Research at the Immunisation Advisory Centre in Auckland, Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris commented in the media following the recall of the MMR vaccine from district hospitals in Samoa for further tests.
“Rarely a tragic event such as this occurs. There are two main reasons why something like this might happen.
- Medical error, where the vaccine is prepared for injection incorrectly and the wrong substance is injected;
- Contamination of the vaccine due to leaving it at room temperature for a long period of time.”
MMR is a vaccine given the child after one year to protect against three diseases; Measles, Mumps and Rubella, and had been used for decades all over the world including New Zealand and there is a long track record of safety.
“The vaccine used in New Zealand and Samoa is extremely safe, and there has never been a death associated with the administration of this vaccine in New Zealand.
“Until we have more information about the events we cannot speculate about what might have happened but we are endeavouring to get more details.
“We first need to understand what happened, and then what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” said Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris.
Losing a first child after trying for ten years
The heart breaking deaths of the babies has shocked the country and has impacted hugely on the young mothers who now fear taking their children to be vaccinated.
For the parents of the babies who died, the loss is excruciatingly painful.
One year old Lana Samuelu is the first and only child of Marieta and Tanielu Samuelu of Sasina village. They have been married for ten years. As the only child, the celebration of her birthday recently was special and the images were posted on social media.
Marieta said after her baby was vaccinated, they came to the road to wait for the bus, when the baby started turning black and was rushed back to the hospital. She died a few minutes later.
The second baby Lameko Siu, a boy, is the fourth child of Punipuao and Pumoa Si’u of Safotu village. The mother arrived with her baby to be vaccinated not long after the death of Lana Samuelu. Hesitant to proceed, Punipuao said the doctor encouraged her to have her baby vaccinated. A few minutes later, she watched helplessly until she was told that her son was dead.
But Dr. Harris has confidence still in MMR vaccine. She said almost every child in the world receives an MMR vaccine or similar, and everywhere these vaccines have been used, child mortality has gone down.
“We first need to understand what happened, and then what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” said Dr. Harris.