Anti-vaxxer arrested for spreading fake news during the deadly measles outbreak in Samoa
A state of emergency has been declared in Samoa, an island with a population just below 200,000 in the South Pacific, after a measles outbreak has infected over 4800 people and killed over 70, mostly young children.
At the time of the outbreak only 31% of the island's population was vaccinated.
To help put a stop to the outbreak the government has undergone a substantial vaccination drive in which the percentage of the population that is vaccinated has tripled to 91%.
In response to the current measles outbreak, the @samoagovt will be undertaking a 'Door to door Mass Vaccination Campaign' on Thursday 5th and Friday 6th December, 2019 from 7am to 5pm throughout the whole country.
Read full notice at https://t.co/8OUn9cD33D pic.twitter.com/cjVBfaeumu
— Government of Samoa (@samoagovt) December 3, 2019
Today, PM Tuilaepa announced the preliminary figures for the Door to Door Mass Vaccination Campaign (only).
•5 Dec – 17,551
•6 Dec (AM) – 3,089
Clarification on collection of above data and full press conference at: https://t.co/qsdplMvaNr pic.twitter.com/ww0qUpY15q
— Government of Samoa (@samoagovt) December 5, 2019
The outbreak is so serious that last week the government arrested an anti-vaxxer activist to stop the spread of false information and save lives.
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Faith healer Edwin Tamasese protested the Samoan government's vaccination drive in a Faceboook post saying, "I'll be here to mop up your mess. Enjoy your killing spree."
He posted a shot from the police car after being taken in by authorities.
Tamasese was granted bail on Tuesday, December 10 on the condition he would not post anything on social media about the measles or dispense any medication.
"As government starts the mass vaccination campaign mobilizing hundreds of its public servants to transport residents to the fixed sites and mobile clinics for their injections, it is not wasting its valuable time to the nonsense on social media posted by anti-vaccination," government spokesman Afamasaga Rico Tupai said in a Facebook post.
As the government mounts a serious drive to save the island's population, especially its children, anti-vaxxer propaganda is making some reticent to be vaccinated.
"The anti-vaxxers, unfortunately, have been slowing us down," Communications Minister Afamasaga Rico Tupai said in an interview with New Zealand television station 1 News.
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"We have families [where] unfortunately children passed away, only having come to the hospital as a last resort. Then we find out it is the anti-vaxx message that has got to these families that have kept their kids at home," he said.
He urged anti-vaccination activists, "Don't get in the way of government. Don't contribute to the deaths."
While most conspiracy theories are harmless, anti-vaxxer propaganda comes with a massive price: death.
Anti-vaxxers believe that vaccines cause autism, which is categorically false. A study of over 650,000 children published earlier this year found there is absolutely no evidence that vaccinations cause autism.
Anti-vaxxers are waging an information war that's able to manipulate a small percentage of the population, but it's still a huge problem. It's just enough to compromise herd immunity enough to cause the comeback of diseases like measles which were previously thought to be eradicated in developed countries.
In a society that values free expression, we have to reconcile personal freedom with holding those accountable for spreading deadly lies that harm small children.