Samoa pulls MMR vaccine following two deaths – Expert Reaction

The Samoan Government has seized supplies of the MMR vaccine following the deaths of two children.

Reports suggest two children, both one-year-olds, died within minutes of receiving the vaccine on Friday.

In a joint statement, UNICEF Pacific and WHO reiterated that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was the best way to reduce a child’s risk of getting the highly infectious diseases.

The Science Media Centre gathered expert commentary. Few details are currently available, so these comments may be updated if further information becomes available.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, vaccinologist, University of Auckland; Director of Research, Immunisation Advisory Centre, comments:

“MMR is a vaccine given after one year of age to protect against three diseases; measles, mumps and rubella.

“MMR vaccines have 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.

“There has never been a death associated with the administration of this vaccine in New Zealand.

“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.

“Until we have more information about the events we cannot speculate about what might have happened but we 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.

“Almost every child in the world receives an MMR vaccine or similar. Everywhere these vaccines have been used child mortality has gone down.

“When the MMR vaccine has been administered correctly we see vaccine-related [adverse] events occurring around a couple of weeks later.”