Samoan vaccine tragedy – two nurses sentenced to five years in prison

Recently, Dorit Rubinstein Reiss wrote an in-depth article here discussing the Samoan vaccine tragedy – two children died within minutes after receiving the routine MMR vaccine. The government reacted to the Samoan vaccine issue almost immediately, and they opened an inquest into what may have killed the two children – spoiler alert, it wasn’t the vaccine.

At the time, the story was picked up by the anti-vaccine religion as evidence that the MMR vaccine kills children while claiming that nefarious forces are conspiring to hide the truth about the vaccine. Except that is the farthest thing from the truth.

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Photo by Ethan Elisara on Unsplash.

Samoan vaccine tragedy – what we knew

In a completely transparent manner, the Samoan government has quickly reacted to the tragic death of two children and have set up an investigation with both internal and external vaccine experts to determine what had happened. But more importantly how to prevent it in the future. This is how real scientific investigation works.

As Professor Reiss explained, there were two possible reasons that lead to the two deaths:

  1. There was an error in preparing the vaccine for injection.
  2. There was possible contamination due to the vaccine having been reconstituted and left at room temperature too long.

If you are not familiar with the MMR vaccine, it is shipped in two vials. The vaccine itself is in a “lyophilized,” or freeze-dried, form. This keeps the vaccine stable. The second vial includes a “diluent,” which is removed by a syringe and then injected into the lyophilized vaccine vial and reconstituted. The healthcare worker should do this immediately before use.

When I observed one of my daughters receiving the MMR vaccine many years ago, I actually watched the nurse inject the diluent into the vaccine, agitate the vial to mix the reconstituted vaccine, then vaccinate her.

A leading vaccine expert, Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris recently discussed the Samoan vaccine tragedy. She stated that the most likely cause of the deaths was that the vaccine was prepared incorrectly by the medical staff. However, since the MMR vaccine used in the Samoan vaccine issue are 5-dose vials (not used in the USA and many other countries), it is also possible that the vaccine was reconstituted too long before the vaccine and became contaminated.

However, the suddenness of the deaths probably points more to the improper preparation of the vaccine. For example, if the medical staff chose to use another diluent, instead of the one included in the package, especially one high in potassium, it could have instantly killed the children.

In fact, the Samoan police are considering charges against the medical staff pending reports from an inquiry and post-mortem inquest.

As of today, MMR vaccinations have stopped in Samoa, despite parents requesting the vaccine to protect their children from a deadly disease. And we are awaiting more detailed information from the inquiry.

There is little evidence at all that the MMR vaccine was directly responsible for the deaths of the children. The vaccine is still considered very safe, and, of course, it does not cause autism. The anti-vaccine goons ought to drop this Samoan vaccine story as their “evidence” of an issue with MMR vaccines. Of course, since they have no other real evidence, it’s probably not going to happen.

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Samoan vaccine story – update 8 August 2018

I wasn’t sure whether to post a new article or just update this one, so I went with updating this article. Samoa Attorney General Lemalu Herman Retzlaff just sent out thispress release

It can be confirmed that one of the nurses involved with the vaccination injections of the two babies who passed away 6th July 2018, was charged by police on Saturday 4th August 2018. She is set to appear in Court 14th August 2018, where the charges will be confirmed publicly.

According to AG Lemalu, “the file was referred to this office for advice last week, after swift and hard-working investigations by the CID section of the Ministry of Police both in Apia and Savaii, which is to be commended.”

“And the decision to charge was thereafter supported by advice; and it is also confirmed by Police, that investigations are still active and on-going.”

We don’t have any information on what the nurse did (or didn’t) do that caused the deaths of these children. But it’s becoming clear that it was not an issue with the vaccine, but with some sort of medical incompetence or malfeasance.

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Update #2 – 8 August 2018

As they say, wait a few minutes and the news changes. Radio New Zealand has reported that two Samoan nurses, Leuatogi Te’o and Luse Emo Tauvale, are facing criminal charges for negligence and “conspiracy to defeat the course of justice.” We still don’t know the details of what she actually did to prompt these charges, but I’m sure there will be future updates.

Update #3 – 5 June 2019

According to Radio New Zealand, the two nurses involved in these Samoan vaccine deaths pleaded guilty to manslaughter and obstruction of justice charges. Their negligence led to the deaths of two children caused by improper reconstituting of the vaccines (the MMR vaccine is shipped in a lyophilized form and must be reconstituted with a buffer solution, called diluent).

Because it was clear that the nurses’ negligence was directly linked to the deaths, and not the vaccine itself, Samoa restarted its MMR vaccination program in March 2019. The World Health Organization hoped to catch up with all Samoan children with the vaccine by the end of April 2019. With the worldwide measles epidemic, it can’t come soon enough for those children.

In case you’re here to find out whether the MMR vaccine caused the tragic deaths of these two children, it wasn’t the vaccine’s fault.

Let me repeat that for those of you who can’t be bothered with long explanations – THE HEART-RENDING DEATHS WERE NOT LINKED TO THE MMR VACCINE.

Update #4 – 6 August 2019

The two nurses involved with this tragedy have been sentenced to at least five years in prison according to a report from ABC (Australia) News. The two had pled guilty to incorrectly mixing and administering MMR vaccines that caused the deaths of two infants.

Because this tragedy had (and continues to be) falsely reported by anti-vaxxers worldwide, it’s important to remind the reader that the children’s deaths were caused by human error – the vaccines were incorrectly mixed, something that very rarely happens. The deaths were not caused by the vaccines themselves.

The first nurse, Luse Emo Tauvale, pleaded guilty to two charges of manslaughter and one charge of obstruction of justice. She had mixed the desiccated MMR vaccine powder with an expired anesthetic rather than with the buffered solution that’s always provided with the vaccine. As a result, she was sentenced to 5 ½ years in jail.

The second nurse, Leuatogi Te’o, pleaded guilty to one charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison.

As you can imagine, this case created a general fear about the safety of vaccines in Samoa – originally, the Samoan Government recalled the MMR vaccine before they determined that that the deaths of the children resulted from human error rather than the vaccines themselves.

Despite the fact that the courts exonerated the vaccines from the tragedy, this caused a distrust of the medical system in the country. I’m pro-vaccine, and I’d be concerned about the proper mixing of these vaccines – of course, it is an extremely rare issue. 

I hope this is the last update for the Samoan vaccine tragedy. But you never know what might happen.



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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!