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Samoa flights still suspended until variant of positive cases ID'd

Dr. Aifili John Tufa
Information on booster shots available as soon as Monday

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — After consultation with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local physicians, the Health Department has made a change in the test samples from the local imported COVID-19 cases to be sent to CDC to test for the type of variant.

This was revealed during a DoH news conference this week Wednesday, where it was also announced that inter Samoa flights will only bring in passengers from Samoa with no outbound passengers — and DoH is looking to launch the COVID-19 booster shots for those who qualify, next week.


The Samoa government halted inter Samoa flights late last month and it sought from local health officials the type of variant from the first positive imported COVID-19 case, which is a local resident who returned from Honolulu on the Sept. 13th flight. Then two additional positive cases were identified on the Sept. 27th flight from Honolulu.

DoH was working on sending out the first sample to CDC for “genomic sequencing” but during Wednesday’s news conference, the territory’s  lead epidemiologist, Dr. Aifili John Tufa commented on the positive cases and whether they’re going to be shipped off to CDC for sequencing.

“After our conversation with CDC, [and] some of our physicians here, it was decided that because of patient privacy information, we cannot send the sample off to CDC at this time for genomic sequencing.”

“And the reason is because if we have one positive case here or a few positive cases and we send that sample off for sequencing, it is possible that the identity of this person can be revealed, not only locally but also internationally,” Dr. Tufa explained.

“So because of that, we’ve decided that we need to reach a certain amount, number of positive cases, then we’ll send the samples off for sequencing so that it’s a little bit harder to distinguish which positive case that sample case came from,” he added.


With the test result of the variant not available, inter Samoa flights remained suspended indefinitely.

The Samoa government in a news article posted on its Facebook page early this week, quotes Director General of Health Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, giving the green-light for inter Samoa flights but only for American Samoa residents and workers hired by the cannery traveling from Apia and no passengers for the return flight to Samoa.

Samoa remains concerned over the type of variant from the positive cases here.

During a DoH news conference live-streams on KVZK-TV’s Facebook page on Wednesday, DoH’s Clinical Service acting director Dr. Elizabeth Lauvao said some in the community may think that inter Samoa flights have resumed.

However, she said the flights are only for passengers from Samoa, who are local residents and workers. She said there were 57 passengers on flights from Apia on Tuesday. “We’re also looking at a tentative schedule from Samoa on Wednesday and Friday next week, again only passengers from Apia and none out” of American Samoa, she said.

Information received by Samoa News indicates that there were no Samoa residents recruited for the cannery on the flights this week from Apia.


Dr. Lauvao also provided an update on the Sept. 27th passengers from Honolulu who were quarantined at Sadie’s by the Sea hotel and Tradewinds. She said all passengers tested negative on their final COVID-19 tests and were released Wednesday from quarantine.

The travelers will be home doing self-monitoring for 7-days and they also are required to check-in on TalofaPass daily for the next 7 days. “Travelers were happy to be with their families and loved ones,” she said.

For the two positive cases and three “close-contact” family members from that same flight, their 14-day isolation will be completed today and are currently scheduled for release today Friday, after going through final medical check and test. They will also be required, upon release from isolation to self-monitor at home and check in on TalofaPass.


DOH Pharmacist Dr. Francine Amoa, who also oversees the vaccination campaigns, spoke about the booster shot, the current vaccination rate, and the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s (USFDA) review of the Pfizer vaccine for 5 to 11 year olds.

As of this week, “we are currently at 66.4% for fully vaccinated among our total population,” Dr. Amoa said. “So we are definitely heading towards the right direction” for the goal of 80% or higher of the eligible population being fully vaccinated, she pointed out.

And DoH reminds the community that today, Oct. 15th is the last day for the $100 per dose, monetary incentive to bring people in to get vaccinated . Most of the vaccination sites will be open today and they include Amouli clinic, Fagaalu Central Clinic, Leone clinic and the DWYA facilities in Pago Pago and Tafuna.

“So it’s a good time to come out and get the vaccine because, more sites are available. Do plan on going there early because they close at 12noon. Bring a picture ID and all appropriate documents before you come to the vaccination site,” said Dr. Amoa.

DoH will continue vaccinations after Oct. 15th.

Dr. Amoa also said on Oct. 26th, the USDA would convene a meeting to review the data for use of the Pfizer vaccine among the 5 to 11 year olds. “So this comes at an opportune time because when you look at those who are not eligible for the vaccine, our children ages 5 to 11 are included in the more than 20% who are not eligible,” she explained.

DoH hope that by the end of this month or by next month, “we’ll have more news on weather or not children five to 11 will be eligible for the Pfizer vaccine,” she said and shared an update on the booster shot.

She explained that the booster doses are for those who receive the Pfizer vaccine only.

“We’re looking at administering this booster, probably next week Monday. Will have a final meeting with our partners at LBJ Medical Center to review this and then put out an official notice for those who are eligible and will provide more details in the near future,” she said.

And on behalf of DoH and its partners, she thanked the community for their support with the COVID-19 vaccination campaign.