Measles vaccine catch-up 'too late'

File photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly
File photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly
A Pasifika doctor who works in Christchurch says a measles vaccination catch-up campaign is years overdue - and would have prevented last year's epidemic if it had been done on time.

The government is expected to announce details today about how it plans to find and vaccinate hundreds of thousands of 15 to 30-year-olds who may have not have had all their jabs.

Pasifika GP Network chairman Api Talemaitoga, who works in Christchurch and Papatoetoe, said it was frustrating watching the disease take hold.

He said it was a shame it took an epidemic to make the vaccination push happen.

"It is too late. My view is that it is probably better late than never, but this should have happened ages ago," he said.

Doctors and public health experts have warned for years about the large group of young New Zealanders who have not been properly vaccinated - mostly because of a historical problem with immunisation records.

It means the country is vulnerable to measles.

More than 2000 people contracted the disease last year - even though it was declared eliminated in New Zealand in 2017.

Two unborn babies died and 783 people were hospitalised.

Pasifika New Zealanders from South Auckland were disproportionately represented and it's likely the first case in Samoa's outbreak that killed 83 people came from New Zealand.

Like many other doctors, he was also critical of the urgent vaccination response mounted last year to try to stop the outbreak.

An Auckland Regional Public Health paper in May 2019 had said it would not take many vaccinations to stem the rapid spread.

But health authorities did not get that up and running until it was too late - and the response was disorganised, Dr Talemaitoga said.

Health authorities had a blind spot when it came to reaching pacific communities, he said.

"I just see it time and time again that, if it was perhaps not a high needs population that was particularly affected, things might have been different," he said.

GP and senior lecturer in Pacific health Maryann Heather agreed, saying the situation last year was a mess.

"There was no coordination and sharing of information between us, and the DHBs and the [vaccination] pop-up clinics... it was difficult for us to try and manage because we were getting different information," she said.

When immunisation campaigns had been Pacific-led, such as for HPV and meningitis, they had been very successful, Dr Talemaitoga said.

There have been no new measles cases since January but experts said until the vaccination gap was closed, the country remained vulnerable.

 

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