Samoan authorities on Friday warned that propaganda opposing a mass vaccination drive would not be tolerated after an anti-immunization campaigner was arrested.
Police arrested Edwin Tamasese and charged him with incitement against a government order late on Thursday. The country is struggling to control a measles epidemic that has killed at least 63 people, most of them children.
Details of the arrest were published by an online edition of national newspaper the Samoa Observer.
The paper said Tamasese — who could potentially face up to two years in jail — had been arrested after he breached a written warning demanding that he end his anti-vaccination activities.
Tamasese, who has no medical training, has railed against Samoa’s vaccination drive and promoted quack remedies such as papaya leaf extract and vitamins to treat measles. He posted a picture on social media of police driving him to the station.
The newspaper said that US anti-vaxxers were swamping Samoan government websites with material that was described as “nonsense.”
Communications Minister Afamasaga Rico Tupai warned that, by spreading false conspiracy theories, anti-vaxxers were hindering the unprecedented public health effort to stop the spread of the disease.
“The anti-vaxxers unfortunately have been slowing us down,” Tupai told New Zealand’s TVNZ television channel.
“We’ve had children who have passed away after coming to the hospital as a last resort and then we find out the anti-vaccine message has got to their families and that’s why they’ve kept these kids at home.”
Tupai urged anti-vaxxers: “Don’t get in the way, don’t contribute to the deaths”.
rc/rt (AFP, EBU)