According to the BBC, Edwin Tamasese was charged with “incitement against a government order” this week. The Samoan government has already declared a state of emergency in the country, as more than 4,200 people have become infected with measles in recent weeks.
Measles is an extremely contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of infected individuals and is often transmitted to others through coughing and sneezing. The Samoan government has also ordered mandatory vaccinations and began a door-to-door vaccination campaign this week, asking families who have unvaccinated members to attach red flags to their homes, NPR reported.
The measles virus can easily be prevented with the MMR vaccine, which also protects against mumps (a viral infection that affects the salivary glands) and rubella (a viral infection identified by a distinctive red rash). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get two doses of the safe and proven MMR vaccine, with the first dose administered between 12-15 months of age and the second dose at 4-6 years of age.
According to the CDC, symptoms of measles typically appear seven to 14 days after a person is infected with the virus and usually result in a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. A few days after these symptoms appear, tiny white spots may show up inside infected individual’s mouth.
"Let us work together to ... convince those that do not believe that vaccinations are the only answer to the epidemic. Let us not be distracted by the promise of alternative cures," Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said earlier this week.
According to Samoan Minister of Communication Afamasaga Lepuiai Rico Tupai, "anti-vaxxers" have contributed to the measles epidemic by disseminating false information about vaccines.
"We find out it's the message of anti-vaxx that's got to these families. ... What we say to them is, 'Don't be in the way of government. Don't be contributing to the deaths and the numbers rising,’” Tupai said.
On Thursday and Friday, Samoan authorities shut down non-essential government services so that officials could focus on the vaccination campaign. Schools throughout the country have also been closed since November 17 due to the epidemic. Children have been been banned from going to places where “large numbers of people congregate,” according to Malielegaoi, although it’s not clear how long this ban has been in place.