4 Dec 2019

Nurses’ fatal vaccination error in Samoa was against parents' wishes

From Checkpoint, 5:22 pm on 4 December 2019

Five more babies in Samoa have died after contracting measles, bringing the nation's death toll from the measles epidemic to 60.

While the country's immunisation rates have never been high, a reluctance to get vaccinated has been blamed on an incident in 2018 when two babies died after they were administered botched MMR vaccines.

Two nurses pleaded guilty to negligence causing manslaughter after one mixed the MMR vaccine with expired muscle relaxant anaesthetic instead of water. The concoction stopped the babies' hearts within minutes. Both nurses were jailed this year for five years.

The two sets of parents are now suing Samoa's Ministry of Health. One family is demanding 10 million tala in compensation - just under NZ$6 million.

Marieta and Samuelu Tuisuesue from Sasina village on Savai'i could not have kids.

They told Checkpoint's Alex Perrottet and Logan Church that they prayed and fasted for seven years and suddenly they were blessed with their baby Lannahcallysta.

They took Lannahcallysta for her routine MMR vaccination in July 2018, when it all went horribly wrong.

"They walked away from the hospital, waiting for the bus to go home. But suddenly she saw the daughter, there was a change," a translator for Marieta and Samuelu said.

She saw her daughter started having fits and raced back to the hospital to ask the nurse what was happening.

She tried to wake Lannahcallysta but "there was no response. She died."

In the days after his daughter's death, Samuela wanted to die with her, he said.

Marieta said the ordeal was "so painful… [any] positive feelings were all gone."

As soon as Lannahcallysta died, couples lining up for vaccinations became scared.

Punipuao and Siu Timua from Safotu got up to leave. They had the youngest of their six boys with them, healthy Lameko Opa Siu.

But they say Lameko was immunised against their wishes.

"Immediately after the first baby died, the nurse came and told me that I'm next, my son is next.

"But I totally refused and told the nurse 'no, I've seen the other baby', but the nurse came up with an excuse, and said it's okay, that other first baby was a sick baby."

Punipuao wanted to take her baby home, she told Checkpoint.

After getting the botched mixture of vaccine and anaesthetic, Lameko was shaking and turned yellowish. It was not for long, Punipuao said.

She screamed and ran back to the hospital. They tried to bring Lameko back but he was gone.

The Ministry of Health should be accountable for what happened to the children, who were healthy when they were administered the botched vaccine, Siu said.

They are not afraid to be taking on the Ministry of Health with legal action.

"They are taking this big leap of faith so they might be able to find peace," their translator told Checkpoint.

Punipuao has had a stroke, since the ordeal in 2018. She cannot move her right arm, right leg and her left eye.

The two couples are not suing the Ministry of Health for the money, which say will never replace their children. They are looking for justice and accountability.

Like many other Samoans, they blame the current crisis on the Health Ministry's prolonged suspension of vaccinations.

They are not well off, but lawyers and others are rallying behind them to help, they said.

Despite what has happened to them and their babies, they have a message for Samoa, before the mass door-to-door vaccination drive.

"They really want to encourage parents, because of this crisis, to take their babies, their children to continue their immunisation for measles," their translator said.

"The problem was the fault of the nurses."