The death toll from the outbreak rose to 53 today with the deaths of five children. Most of the victims have been babies and young infants, including 23 children aged less than one and 25 children aged between one and four. One adult and two older teenagers have also died and the Samoan government said more than 1,100 people had been admitted to hospital since the outbreak began. Some 180 people remain in hospital, including 19 children who are in a critical condition.
Samoa declared a national emergency last month and mandated that all 200,000 people living on the island to get vaccinated.
The government has closed all schools and banned children from public gatherings.
The outbreak threatens to cause chaos on the island ahead of the Christmas holiday season, with 25 percent of the country’s GDP coming from tourism.
Samoan authorities believe the virus was first spread by a traveller from New Zealand.
After causing devastation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine, among others, measles cases started appearing in the New Zealand city of Auckland, a hub for travel to and from small Pacific islands.
Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist at the University of Auckland, said there were pockets of the community where immunisation rates had slipped, allowing the disease to take hold.
She said: “It’s about being a good global citizen really, in that we all have to do our bit.
“I don’t think that the response here has been a shining example. Because first of all we were aware of the possibility or the potential for this and that’s been the case for a long time.”
READ MORE: Measles outbreak: Global measles cases triple in one year
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her country was doing all it could to help curb the epidemic, including sending more than 50 medical professionals and thousands of vaccines to Samoa.
Other countries including Britain have also sent teams and supplies.
Ms Ardern said the natural curve of infection rates meant that “sometimes things can be worse before they are better”.
The World Health Organisation has set a target of wiping out measles from most of the world by next year.
It says the disease is entirely preventable thanks to a safe vaccine that has been in use since the 1960s, and that measles deaths worldwide decreased by 84 percent between 2000 and 2016 to about 90,000 annually thanks to better immunisation.
Measles cases are rising worldwide, even in wealthy nations such as Germany and the United States, as parents shun immunisation for philosophical or religious reasons, or fears that such vaccines could cause autism.
Other nations, through either poverty or poor planning, have let immunisation levels slip, exposing their youngest members to a disease that aggressively attacks the immune system.
WHO warned in October of a devastating comeback in measles epidemics as the number of reported cases rose by 300 percent in the first three months of this year.
Officials said reported measles cases are the highest they have been in any year since 2006.