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22 Oct 2021 10:43
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  •   Home > News > Politics

    Samoa goes into lockdown to vaccinate its population against COVID-19

    Samoa puts in place a nationwide lockdown for a massive door-to-door COVID-19 vaccination campaign, like it did two years ago during a deadly measles outbreak.

    For the past two days, the entire nation of Samoa has been locked down, with strips of red fabric flying in front of many homes.

    Businesses have closed and people have been urged to stay at home.

    But the Pacific nation has not recorded a single case of COVID-19.

    This lockdown is for health authorities to administer door-to-door vaccines as part of a mass vaccination drive.

    The red flags — which have been hoisted around trees, draped on fences, or wrapped around telephone poles — are a sign that someone in the household needs their first dose.

    "The vaccination teams will be allocated in every village and will go directly to the residences," the Ministry of Health said in a public notice before the campaign.

    "All members of the public are advised to stay at home."

    The ambitious rollout aims to vaccinate at least 99 per cent of the eligible population — around 109,640 people — with their first dose of AstraZeneca.

    Samoa's government last used this mass-vaccination strategy in 2019, amid a devastating measles outbreak that killed 83 people, mostly children.

    Memories of that tragedy have spurred many Samoans to roll up their sleeves to protect themselves from COVID-19. 

    'Lessons learned'

    Pulotu Lyndon Chu-Ling's day job is as the chief executive of Samoa's Ministry of Commerce. 

    However, over the past two days, he has been in charge of a team of 30 people, who have been travelling though Samoa's villages to deliver the vaccine.

    Pulotu said people had been more supportive of vaccines since the 2019 measles epidemic.

    "The lessons learned is the onus is on each and every one of us to make sure that we are vaccinated," he said. 

    "The drugs are free, the services are free and it's only a matter of commitment for us individually."

    Before the mass vaccination drive, authorities estimated around 81 per cent of eligible Samoans had already received their first dose.

    Samoa has a population of around 197,000 people, with about 60 per cent eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

    While on the road, Pulotu was surprised so many Samoans were were still waiting to get jabbed.

    "Some of the villages … don't have red flags, but they just realise that we are coming to do their injections," he said.

    "Other people [start] coming out of their houses [to] join them and do the vaccination."

    Samoa applauded for effort

    Before the measles outbreak took hold of Samoa two years ago, its immunisation rate against measles was just 30 per cent.

    That low level of protection allowed infections to spread rapidly around the country.

    This prompted the government to implement a stay-at-home order and a curfew to get everyone vaccinated.

    According to the government, when that lockdown was lifted a few days later, the measles vaccination rate had increased to 90 per cent.

    Samoa has only recorded one case of COVID-19, and is currently COVID-free.

    But Maina Vai, an Apia resident and local journalist, said the outbreaks seen in neighbouring countries have made many Samoans wary they could also face the same fate.

    Nearby American Samoa recorded its first case of COVID-19 just last week. 

    "Samoans are looking at [the situation] in Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, and even American Samoa, which is the one close to us," Ms Vai said.

    "I think that is why everyone is being aware right now and really want to get vaccinated."

    But not everyone agrees with the two-day lockdown. 

    Samoa Unoi, a Minister at the Peace Chapel Church in Apia, had already received two doses of the vaccine, and said he'd rather be out-and-about during the vaccination campaign. 

    "The only complaint we have [is that] they shouldn’t have shut down the whole nation for two days. Especially people like us, who've already been vaccinated," Samoa said.

    Nevertheless, health experts have applauded the Pacific nation for being proactive in its rollout.

    Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist from the University of Auckland, said taking the doses door-to-door has helped build public trust of the vaccines.

    "Communities know what their people need, often those community-driven solutions can be really effective," she said.

    "So making those vaccines easy to get, bringing in the community can make a big difference."

    [Click through to send us your questions about COVID-19]

    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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