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PSNZ President Dr Owen Sinclair says “A measles outbreak in Aotearoa is only a plane ride away”

The Paediatric Society of New Zealand (PSNZ) is issuing a critical warning about the high likelihood of a significant measles outbreak in Aotearoa this year, echoing concerns from leading public health experts. With international measles cases on the rise, notably a 45-fold increase in Europe and significant outbreaks in Britain, Australia, the United States, the Middle East, and Asia, New Zealand’s vulnerability to this highly infectious disease is alarming, especially among our unvaccinated populations.

Te Whatu Ora has released information on the urgency for immunisation against measles for New Zealanders planning overseas travel. The call to action comes in the wake of 15 individuals being exposed to measles on a flight from Australia to New Zealand. Although the situation was promptly managed, and all passengers were effectively contact traced and quarantined – the incident serves as a reminder of the measles threat to our shores.

PSNZ President Dr Owen Sinclair (Te Rarawa) says, “Aotearoa has had a ‘wake-up call,’ and we need to ensure that ourselves, our tamariki, and our wider communities are protected and immunised with the required two doses of measles vaccine.”

In 2023, New Zealand recorded 13 measles cases, mostly linked to international travel from affected regions. This highlights the ongoing risk and the essential need for measles immunisation, particularly for children. The MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine, which is freely available in Aotearoa for children and eligible adults, is a cornerstone in preventing the spread of this potentially deadly disease.

PSNZ is concerned about the impact of an outbreak on children and those affected by inequitable health outcomes in Aotearoa, particularly for the 30% of tamariki Māori who are currently partially or fully unvaccinated. PSNZ aligns with other experts in the field who stress the importance of a 95% immunisation rate to achieve herd immunity and prevent outbreaks.

Dr Owen Sinclair says, “Immunisation is medical science’s most powerful invention, and if done well, can eliminate lethal diseases in an entire country. Unfortunately, the low rates of measles vaccination in some populations, especially Māori, means an outbreak is likely, and we have failed to protect our most vulnerable populations.”

Owen adds, “Measles is a lethal disease, as was seen in Samoa in 2019, and even without deaths, epidemic disease is expensive and puts our medical system under real strain. You can protect yourself and your whānau by ensuring you are all immune. But New Zealand must also do better to protect our most vulnerable by refocusing our immunisation system on those who need it the most – Māori and Pacific.”

PSNZ strongly advocates for immediate action to increase vaccination rates among children in Aotearoa, emphasising the effectiveness and safety of the MMR vaccine. The organisation calls on the government, healthcare providers, caregivers, and communities to prioritise immunisation.

For more information on measles symptoms, vaccine schedules, and how to get vaccinated, please visit the KidsHealth website or contact your local GP or healthcare provider.

 

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