The AMA has issued a reminder of MMR safety in Australia following the deaths of two infants in Samoa shortly after vaccination

Samoan health officials have reportedly recalled the MMR vaccine as they investigate the deaths of two one-year-old infants shortly after being injected with the vaccine at Savaii’s Safotu hospital last Friday.

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

The police are reportedly investigating the deaths as the Ministry of Health conducts its own inquiry.

The Director General of Health, Leausa Take Naseri, said the vaccination programme had been called off until the completion of the investigations.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi has called for a full inquiry.

“There are already processes that will determine if negligence is a factor,” he said.

“And if so, rest assured those processes will be implemented to the letter to ensure that such a tragedy will not be repeated and those responsible will be made to answer.”

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, vaccinologist, University of Auckland and Director of Research at the NZ Immunisation Advisory Centre, says MMR vaccines have been used for decades all over the world and have “a long track record of safety”. 

Rarely a tragic event such as this occurs, she says, adding that “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 are endeavouring to get more details,” says Dr Petousis-Harris.

Australian Medical Association President Dr Tony Bartone has told SKY News he has been in contact with the Chief Medical Officer regarding the issue in Samoa.

“They’re still trying to get information on exactly the backstory on this unfortunate course of events that’s occurred in the Samoan hospital,” he said.

“But it’s important to understand that we’ve got all the safety precautions in place.

“Our MMR vaccine here that we’re [administering] every day in doctors’ surgeries and other infant welfare centres around the country is extremely safe, has been thoroughly tested and obviously we just need to have more information about what’s the unfortunate events that have occurred in Samoa.

“But really the message is please understand vaccination is very safe, it’s very appropriate and everyone should still continue with their appointments as currently planned.”