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Infant deaths in Samoa following administration of MMR vaccine under investigation

You'll be aware that two infants died last week in Samoa shortly after their MMR immunisations.
We'd like to first acknowledge these families' tragic losses and the concerns of the communities both in Samoa and in New Zealand. The following will be updated as more information comes to hand.

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

  • MMR vaccines have been used for decades all over the world including New Zealand and there is a long track record of safety.
  • The vaccine used in New Zealand and Samoa is extremely safe.
  • There has never been a death associated with the administration of this vaccine in New Zealand.

Rarely a tragic event such as this one in Samoa occurs. 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.

At the request of the Samoan Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation has mobilised an immunisation expert from the Western Pacific Regional Office to assist with the investigation and a forensic pathology team from Melbourne, Australia, to support the Government in the forensic work that will contribute to the evaluation of what caused these events. 

The MMR vaccine used in Samoa is a five-dose vial. The batch lot of the vaccine administered to these two children has been in use in Samoa since August 2017 with no safety concerns. The same batch lot is also in use in a number of South American and Caribbean countries, including Belize, Ecuador, St. Vincent, Trinidad Tobago, Chile, Aruba, Dutch Antilles, St. Kitts & Nevis and Cuba, with no reports of adverse events. 

Until the investigation is complete, it is premature to speculate on the cause of this tragedy.  

Click on the link to read the New Zealand Ministry of Health statement on the investigation into MMR vaccine safety in Samoa

Last updated: Jul 2018