Local measles rooted out but we are still vulnerable

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Auckland, October 6, 2017

New Zealand has been praised for eliminating cases of measles or rubella originating within the country over a three-year period.

Although the country’s vaccination rates drew praise from the World Health Organisation, officials warned people not to be complacent.

Measles cases are still being brought into the country, prompting fears that people who are not immunised could be at risk of catching it.

New Zealand is one of just seven countries to have officially wiped out home-grown cases of measles and rubella, according to the World Health Organisation.

Government warning

However, Health Ministry Public Health Director Caroline McElnay warned that the country was not out of the woods just yet.

“It does mean that we can get cases that come into the country from overseas but we’ve got sufficient immunisation coverage that the disease won’t take hold and become sustained.”

For immunisation from measles, rubella and mumps two doses of the vaccine called MMR are needed.

Dr McElnay said that among New Zealand’s children and infants, 95% had had the first dose and 90% the full vaccine.

There had been 14 cases of measles this year coming into the country.

Good immunisation coverage

Dr McElnay said that the disease had not spread from those cases because New Zealand’s immunisation coverage was high enough to stop it.

However, there was one group that was vulnerable, however.

“Teenagers and young adults belong to that group,” she said.

The Health Ministry held a symposium today discussing how to boost immunisation levels among teenagers and young adults.

Robert Hall is an official at the World Health Organisation and was there to talk to some of New Zealand’s medical professionals.

Independent Commission

“New Zealand has just gone through a process. They have applied for recognition by the World Health Organisation that the country is measles free and that process has gone through.

“The independent verification commission has determined that New Zealand has essentially eliminated indigenous measles from the country.”

Dr Hall had a message for those who did not believe in the need for vaccinations.

As a young doctor, he treated a child who was not vaccinated and contracted measles that led to a rare and chronic disorder of the central nervous system.

“And I can tell you, you do not want any child to go through that. That was a result of not being vaccinated, getting the disease and then getting one of the, admittedly rare, complications of disease.

“Measles is a serious disease. Even in developed countries now, one in five thousand children who gets measles will die.”

Worldwide, measles kills almost 400 children every day while over 100 thousand babies are born every year with serious disabilities after being exposed to rubella in the womb.

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