‘Anti-vaxxer’ charged as Samoa battles measles outbreak
An alleged anti-vaxxer has been charged with “incitement against the government vaccination order,” the Samoan government said Thursday.
The government of the Pacific Island nation has shut down in a desperate attempt to fight a deadly measles outbreak that has already claimed 62 lives.
Amid the outbreak, the government is also fighting the spread of anti-vaccination conspiracy theories on social media, which the authorities say is “another major reason for the increasing number of deaths.”
The Samoan government’s official Facebook page, where it keeps people informed about the outbreak, has been inundated by anti-vaxxers posting warnings about vaccinations that are not supported by scientific evidence.
A CNN analysis of the government’s posts on the measles emergency has revealed dozens of anti-vax comments, including Nazi-themed memes and links to dubious medical sources.
The alleged anti-vaxxer, who was arrested and charged after the authorities were tipped off by a member of the public, had previously been warned by the police, the government said.
The allegation is that the individual publicly stated with reference to the current vaccination drive: “I’ll be here to mop up your mess. Enjoy your killing spree.”
The government statement says the man’s bail has been opposed because of concerns that he will re-offend.
He remains in custody until the first available court date, the statement adds.
In another statement, government spokesman Afamasaga Rico Tupai said the anti-vaxxers on social media were “another major reason for the increasing number of deaths,” because people keep sick children at home and rush to the hospital when it’s too late.
“Some die on the road or some arrive and nothing can be done about it,” he said in an interview accompanying the Facebook post.
He said the law is “cracking down on those that are delaying treatment of children.”
“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,” he said in a Facebook post.
Samoa’s government officially declared a state of emergency on Nov. 15, according to United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, and began a mass vaccination campaign five days later.
More than 4,200 cases of measles have been reported in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi said 58,000 people — more than a quarter of the population — were vaccinated from the start of the campaign on Nov. 20 until Monday.
CNN’s Joshua Berlinger and Isaac Yee contributed to this report.