After its first COVID-19 case, American Samoa focuses on vaccines
On September 19, 2021, American Samoa reported its first positive test of the Coronavirus. The territory made it through the first 18 months of the pandemic without one, due to first, closed borders, then strict lockdowns and extensive testing and a 14-day quarantine for residents who were stuck abroad or visitors once the world began to reopen.
It was exactly this testing that allowed them to prevent an outbreak. The traveler that tested positive did so after flying in from Hawaii and was in quarantine when it happened. For Governor Lemanu Mauga (D), the positive test “further highlights the importance of maintaining our current quarantine protocols.”
American Samoa is one of a few places in the world that have implemented a “covid zero” approach which many public health experts view as unsustainable for the long term.
Despite their lack of COVID cases, they are still heavily pushing the vaccine with some success. As of November 13, about 66% of the eligible population are fully vaccinated. In order to encourage others to get their shots, the government is planning a shutdown in December.
The announcement of the impending lockdown has received pushback from the business community in the territory, but officials seem to be going forward with it regardless, especially after their first positive case.
Neighboring Samoa is highlighted as an example of this method working successfully, as they implemented it last month, and now have a vaccination rate above 70%. Department of Health officials in American Samoa are using the fact that Samoa’s high vaccination rate has allowed the country to open up more, allowing visitors and residents to travel without quarantine and no community transmission. Another method that officials are attempting to use to motivate the population to get vaccinated is their history. When measles broke out in the territory, they were able to get 90% of the population vaccinated in several months. Why then, officials ask, would it be different for the COVID vaccine?