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Samoa clamps down on anti-vax movement with prosecution of prominent campaigner

Samoa has clamped down on the anti-vaccination movement today with the nation's most prominent anti-vaxxer the first to be charged under new emergency laws.

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1 NEWS Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver reports from Apia. Source: 1 NEWS

Edwin Tamasese is free, at least for now, after being kept in custody since his arrest last week.

His actions are just part of a secretive underground operation, 1 NEWS Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver reports. 

Mr Tamasese has been treating measles patients with vitamins provided by international anti-vax groups and encouraging parents not to get their children vaccinated or give them antibiotics, authorities allege. 

Last week, during the two-day vaccination drive he posted online, "I’ll be here to mop up your mess, enjoy your killing spree".

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There is growing anger in Samoa about how the spread of the disease has been handled. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Tamasese has had to hand in his travel documents and has been ordered by the judge not to post anything on social media or publish anything at all about the measles epidemic.

“He's now the, I guess, the martyr for the anti-vaccine movement globally, in Samoa,” 1 NEWS was told by a pro-vaccine advocate who wants to remain anonymous.

The advocate’s work as part of a digital community set up to counter New Zealand's underground anti-vax groups is the subject of online abuse.

“They've definitely run donation fundraising for them in some of the private groups so that he's got money and also supplies, and of recently they're also fundraising for his legal fees,” the pro-vaccine advocate said.

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Efforts are underway to get caskets to Samoa so children who die from measles can be properly buried. Source: 1 NEWS

The extent of the anti-vax influence on the local community and previously low vaccination rate there is unknown, but the UN’s resident coordinator Simona Marinescu doesn’t think it was the main problem.

“We saw parents very much willing to get their babies vaccinated over the last few days, very few tried to avoid vaccination,” Ms Marinescu said.

The government plans to legislate for compulsory vaccination and is taking no chances with local or foreign anti-vaxxers.

“Whoever wants to delay vaccination and treatment, the law will be on them. And you can see there are anti-vax people already arrested so everyone else, if you come in the country and you do the same thing and then we are on you, the law is on you,” Communications Minister Afamasaga Rico Tupai said.