Red Flags to Fly Above Homes of Unvaccinated in Samoa As Government Shuts Down and Measles Death Toll Rises

Officials in Samoa have asked families unvaccinated against measles to put a red flag outside their homes, as part of an immunization program to tackle an outbreak that has already claimed the lives of 60 people.

A mass door-to-door vaccination campaign is due to take place throughout the Pacific island nation from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, the government said in a statement.

Officials advised residents to "tie a red cloth or red flag in front of their houses and near the road to indicate that family members have not been vaccinated."

"The red mark makes it easier for the teams to identify households for vaccinations," the government statement said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi delivered a state address during which he gave his condolences to those who had lost loved ones to the virus. He also announced the shutdown of government services on Thursday and Friday to allow public servants to focus their attention on the crisis.

The government has also deployed 32 mobile clinics to reach people in isolated areas.

Following the red flag announcement, the government shared an image on Facebook of the PM and cabinet ministers receiving jabs, captioned "leading by example."

Words shared alongside the images stated public servants will be mobilized to help the campaign as part of the government's "initiative to eradicate the measles crisis and future outbreak that will jeopardize the safety of Samoa."

The operation comes after the Samoa Ministry of Health declared a measles outbreak on October 16. The government has recorded 60 deaths caused by the virus, and a total of 4,052 reported cases, including 171 in the past day. Most of those who have died are between the ages of 0 and 4 years old. The death toll has risen from 55 on Monday.

Last month, Samoa's Director General of Health Leausa Take Naseri blamed the deaths on "low immunization coverage."

Vaccination rates dropped following the deaths of two children who received shots mixed with muscle relaxant instead of water, due to human error, BBC News reported. Two nurses were found guilty of manslaughter.

Keni Lesa, editor of the Samoa Observer, explained to NPR the deaths sparked a spread of anti-vaccine misinformation, which made parents "scared to take their kids to get vaccinated."

The U.S., the United Nations, Australia, News Zealand, France, the U.K., China, Norway, Japan and a range of organizations including the World Health Organization and Unicef have provided help to Samoa.

Josh Green, the 14th Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii and an emergency room medical doctor, is due to travel there with a team of 55 nurses and 10 doctors on Wednesday, to help the immunization program and administer healthcare, Hawaii News Now reported.

Green told Hawaii News Now: "This will obviously save tens of thousands of people from getting the measles and it will save hundreds of fatalities from occurring.

"This is a demonstration of people pulling together," he said.

vaccine, immunization, health, jab, stock, getty
A stock image shows a needle being inserted into a vial. Officials in Samoa say low immunization rates have caused a measles outbreak. Getty