Low vaccination rates raise concerns in Hawaii as measles ravages pacific neighbor Samoa

Hawaii state law mandates that students starting school must be allowed to do so only after they meet the necessary immunization needs

Low vaccination rates have raised concerns in Hawaii in light of the massive outbreak of measles less than 3,000 miles away in the islands of Samoa. On Tuesday, the state Department of Health (DOH) said that it is "definitely concerned" with the rate of immunization against the disease among students beginning public school.

Janice Okubo, communications director for the DOH, said, "We send out notices to our provider community to make sure they vaccinate their patients in a timely manner." She also added that the DOH provides necessary notices and information to parents in order to ensure that they vaccinate their children against the disease, reported Hawaii News Now.


Mandatory for school children to receive vaccination

Hawaii state law mandates that students starting school must be allowed to do so only after they meet the necessary immunization needs. However, exemptions on medical and religious grounds are permitted, provided parents of such children submit concerned documents to the school. Vaccination against measles forms a part of the new immunization requirements for school children prescribed by the DOH.

According to experts, in order to prevent a measles outbreak, 93% to 95% of the population has to be vaccinated. However, only 91.5% of the state's kindergartners in Hawaii have been vaccinated against measles, reported Hawaii News Now.

Official reports as of April 2019 showed that eight schools had over 30 percent of unvaccinated children due to exemptions. They are:

  1. Haleakala Waldorf School (52.7%),
  2. Malamalama Waldorf School- Big Island (46.3%),
  3. Roots School -Maui (41.5%)
  4. Alakai O Kauai Charter School (40%),
  5. Kona Pacific Public Charter School (37.4%),
  6. Montessori-Maui (35.4%),
  7. Kilauea Elementary School-Kauai (33%)
  8. Kanuikapono Public and Charter School (32.9%)

Advisory issued to travellers

Earlier this month, DOH issued an advisory asking travellers to be alert following an international outbreak of measles around the Pacific. It also said that four cases of travel-related measles were reported in Hawaii in 2019. "Measles is still common in many parts of the world, and current outbreaks in areas around the Pacific and on the mainland are a concern because Hawai'i is a cornerstone for travel and many of our residents are frequent travelers," said Health Director Bruce Anderson.

The outbreak of measles in Samoa

The south pacific nation of Samoa, which is located halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, witnessed a deadly outbreak of measles in October this year. Following this, a state of emergency was declared. According to the latest reports by the Government of Samoa, the death toll currently stands at 72, most of the causalities being children under the age of five, and 4,995 cases reported since the outbreak.

Countries such as the US, Israel and New Zealand have already sent teams to Samoa in order to aid the nation in the immunization of its citizens and controlling the spread of the disease.