Region's health leaders encourage parents to vaccinate children against measles

Health professionals are urging parents in Nelson and Marlborough to ensure their children have been vaccinated against measles.
STACY SQUIRES/STUFF
Health professionals are urging parents in Nelson and Marlborough to ensure their children have been vaccinated against measles.

A widespread measles outbreak in the South Island is likely to reach Nelson and Marlborough, health professionals say.

Nelson Marlborough Public Health Service medical officer of health Dr Andrew Lindsay has urged parents to ensure their children are immunised against measles and to be alert to symptoms of the highly-contagious disease. 

"Immunisation is the best protection against this harmful, potentially-fatal disease. New Zealand children should not have to suffer measles."

The recent measles outbreak in Canterbury has spread, with two cases reported in Dunedin.

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Lindsay said a multidisciplinary team met on Thursday to analyse the situation and take further steps and an incident management team would be established to prepare for a potential outbreak.

He said parents should check their children's immunisation record and if in doubt, they should call their GP or practice nurse.

"Children need two doses of the MMR vaccine to be fully immunised, but one dose of MMR provides 95 per cent protection."

Lindsay said there was a perception measles was a rare, or low-risk illness but that was a misconception. In 2017, more than 30 people died in Europe from measles.

Figures from Nelson Marlborough Health show that 87 per cent of 15 month-olds had been vaccinated against measles, 10.2 per cent had declined and 2.8 per cent were not completed on time.

Among four-year-olds, 88 per cent had been vaccinated, 8.8 per cent had declined and 3.2 per cent were not completed on time.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Health advised all DHBs, excluding Canterbury to maintain the national childhood immunisation schedule for MMR vaccination at ages 15 months and 4 years.  

At the same time, Pharmac confirmed a global shortage of the measles vaccine had forced authorities to restrict supplies.

Pharmac director of operations Lisa Williams said there was a limited supply of vaccines globally, and Pharmac's responsibility was to ensure there was enough stock to meet all of New Zealand's needs.

New Zealand usually uses about 12,000 doses of the MMR vaccine per month -145,000 doses per year, Williams said.

"We always hold three months' supply in our national store, and orders arrive regularly to replenish stock as it is distributed out to each region."

"[Pharmac was] continuing to work with suppliers locally and internationally to get sufficient volumes of the MMR vaccine for everyone who needs it."

Supplies of the vaccine arrived in the region on Friday for distribution to general practices.

Nelson GP spokesman Dr Graham Loveridge said there were not enough vaccines for everyone so unvaccinated babies and those who had never received a vaccine were a priority.

He had not yet seen any cases in Nelson, but reminded people to be aware of the symptoms which included a running nose, fever, streaming eyes and red blotchy rash on face and chest. 

"It's important people don't get too anxious about it, it is a great incentive to make sure your kids are fully vaccinated, that is the best thing a parent can do for their children."

Stuff