FULL CLAIM: "Samoa withdraws vaccine protecting against measles, mumps and rubella after two babies die within minutes of receiving the routine shot"
The headline of this article by the Daily Mail claims that “Samoa withdraws vaccine protecting against measles, mumps and rubella after two babies die within minutes of receiving the routine shot”.
Two babies did die shortly after receiving the MMR vaccine in Samoa on 6 July 2018 and did result in Samoan health authorities launching an inquiry into the incident and halting the vaccination program until the inquiry was completed. The incident was also covered in various outlets, such as the World Health Organization, CNN, ABC News, and Radio New Zealand. However, the claim that one of the babies was injected without parental consent does not appear to be supported by any evidence nor was this claim repeated in other outlets apart from the Daily Mail.
As the Immunisation Advisory Centre of New Zealand reports, the inquiry showed that the deaths were the result of human error during vaccine preparation. The MMR vaccine used in Samoa came in the form of a powder which needed to be diluted in water – the nurses who had prepared the vaccine wrongly diluted the powder with anesthetic instead. This error resulted in the babies’ deaths.
The MMR vaccine itself has been shown to be safe and effective. Human errors in vaccination unfortunately do occur (as with many medical procedures such as surgery), but are very rare, and should not constitute a reason to avoid vaccinating a child if their health permits.
According to Radio New Zealand, most of the vaccination program – except the MMR vaccine – was restarted in October 2018. The MMR vaccination program was only resumed in April 2019. Unfortunately, the lapse in MMR vaccination over several months contributed to a fall in vaccination coverage to “as low as 31%” (at least 95% coverage is needed to be protective). Not unexpectedly, a measles outbreak was declared in Samoa in October 2019.
Even though the investigation found no issue with the MMR vaccine and explained the cause, the article has been shared hundreds of times on social media since then. Many posts misleadingly suggest the MMR vaccine itself is responsible for the death by omitting to mention the results of the investigation.
NOTE (25 Nov. 2019):
We have reached out to the authors of the Daily Mail, World Health Organization, CNN, ABC News, and Radio New Zealand articles to ask that they update their articles with a link to the results of the investigation so these articles cannot be used to mislead people on social media.