Parents grieve for kids lost in Samoa after vaccinations

Author
NZ Herald ,
Section
Health,
Publish Date
Thursday, 12 July 2018, 9:57PM
Alana-Rae Laulu died after receiving the MMR vaccination. (Photo / Supplied)
Alana-Rae Laulu died after receiving the MMR vaccination. (Photo / Supplied)

In the last three years, a young couple from Samoa have been blessed with the births of their two children.

They celebrated their first birthdays and, in the last two years, farewelled them at two separate funerals.

Karl and Christine Laulu continue to deal with the nightmare of losing two precious babies in a span of two years; both taken shortly after receiving a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination in Samoa.

The couple now live in New Zealand and are working to find out exactly how or why their children died.

Speaking to the Herald through their Auckland-based lawyer, Leuluaiali'i Olinda Woodroffe, the couple revealed their first child - a son they named Jamie Ray - was born in March, 2015.

He died just over a year later, on May 3, a few days after he received an MMR shot at Samoa's main hospital: Moto'otua Hospital.

The complications that led to Jamie Ray's death involved multiple organ failure which, at one point, doctors thought may have been appendicitis, his parents said.

On March 30, 2017 - two days after what would have been their son's second birthday - they welcomed daughter Alana-Rae into the world.

In early April, they took their daughter for her scheduled MMR vaccination.

"This is how careful they were. Because their baby died at Moto'otua Hospital, they actually took the second child to a private clinic in Apia.

"That's where [Alana-Rae] was vaccinated. Then they noticed the difficulty with the child.''

The couple made a plea to the Samoan Government to help them get their daughter urgent medical help in New Zealand; telling officials they did not want the same fate that happened to their son to happen to their little girl.

Alana-Rae was admitted to Starship Children's Hospital, in Auckland, on April 20.

Four days later, the family was planning a second funeral.

"It was like living the nightmare all over again," Christine Laulu told 1 News.

The cause of Alana-Rae's death is yet to be determined and the results of an autopsy are pending. Her death was not reported to the Coroner.

Woodroffe said a Starship Hospital report indicated Alana-Rae may have had a genetic condition that was a factor in her death also.

"Once the MMR injection was given to them their body's immune system went into hyper-drive and that's not supposed to happen," Karl Laulu told 1News.

The couple are staying in New Zealand to have genetic testing done to get conclusive answers to why it happened.

"I don't think we have the strength to go back [to Samoa] and pick up the millions and millions of pieces," Karl Laulu told 1 News.

The couple told 1News they believe all children should be immunised.

The couple acknowledged they would still like to have another child one day, but admitted they had fears.

"They want to, but they're scared and they don't really know what will happen to the next one," Woodroffe said.

The Laulu family's story comes as a Government-led investigation is underway to determine the circumstances of the deaths of two 1-year-olds who died minutes after getting the vaccination at Safotu District Hospital, in Savaii, last Friday.

The World Health Organisation and members of international children's charity Unicef are in Samoa now assisting Samoan officials.

The Laulu family has also requested that their case be included in the investigation.

A police investigation is also being carried out after the families of the youngsters - Lannacallystah Samuelu and Lameko Si'u - made formal complaints to authorities.

Calls for calm

Health experts continue to deliver the message of safety; calling for calm as people within the Pacific community and particularly Samoans raise fears about whether or not it is safe to get their children vaccinated.

University of Auckland vaccinologist Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said this week deaths were very rare and that in New Zealand, the MMR vaccine had a long track record of safety.

There had not been one death associated with the vaccine in the many decades it was administered here, she said.

"Almost every child in the world receives an MMR vaccine or similar. Everywhere these vaccines have been used, child mortality has gone down.

"When the MMR vaccine has been administered correctly, we see vaccine-related [adverse] events occurring around a couple of weeks later.''

She acknowledged that although investigations continued in the latest cases, two reasons that could have been factors in the deaths were medical error - the way the vaccine was prepared by nurses or doctors - and contamination of the vaccine due to being left out at room temperature too long.

New Zealand's Ministry of Health is also assisting its counterparts in Samoa.

Dr Stewart Jessamine, the director of protection, regulation and assurance, said our Ministry was keen to provide support where needed.

"We are still in talks with personnel in Samoa to find out what support they may need."

What about MMR in New Zealand?

Jessamine told the Herald the MoH did not know where Samoa sourced its MMR vaccine from, but confirmed it was not supplied from New Zealand.

"New Zealand currently uses a brand of MMR vaccine called Priorix. It's made mostly in France and Belgium and tested there before it's sent to New Zealand.

"It's monitored along the way to make sure it's kept at a constant safe temperature until it's administered to patients.''

Jessamine stressed that the MMR vaccine in New Zealand had an excellent safety profile and had been used without significant problem for several decades.

 

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