'We're on the cusp of getting another measles outbreak': Whangarei MP Shane Reti

Whangarei MP Dr Shane Reti says Northland is on the "cusp of getting another measles outbreak".

It is estimated that one in 10 children have not had the MMR vaccine in Northland, and Dr Reti says 34 cases have already been reported in the region. 

Dr Reti, who is also a GP, says more needs to be done to stop another outbreak of the virus.

"I've lived and worked through two of these before, so I've got a sense of what's coming our way," Dr Reti told The AM Show on Monday morning. 

He said this one was especially concerning.

"It seems deeper and broader than the two I've seen previously."

Ashley Bloomfield, the Ministry of Health's director-general of health, says that the Auckland outbreak has been a "wake-up call" for both the public and the health sector in general.

"Vaccination is safe, effective and I hope that many more people bring in their kids to be vaccinated," he told The AM Show. 

Bloomfield says so far the outbreak has been confined to Auckland.

"Elsewhere around the country they are isolated cases and they are being dealt with by quarantine and ring vaccination," he says.

Bloomfield says immunisation rates were generally high across the country, apart from certain "pockets" that had lower rates.

"We've still got quite high rates of two-year-old being immunised overall across the country - it's at 91 percent, at the end of June. But there are pockets around the country where those rates have dropped much lower down into the mid-80s. And particularly for Māori and Pacific kids in some regions. 

Bloomfield says that the national immunisation register was only introduced 15 years ago, meaning those aged 15-29 are potentially at-risk.

 "We're just not sure of the vaccination status of that sort of 15 to 29-year age group and so we're actively looking now at what we might need to do by way of a catch-up campaign."

Dr Reti suggests that authorising pharmacists to be able to give vaccines could help stem further spread of the virus. 

"Why not use this workforce that's enthusiastic [and] skilled? They already vaccinate for the flu vaccine. One in four pharmacists in Northland can vaccinate. Why are we not authorising them to vaccinate? It's 30 seconds of policy."

The DHB in Northland had "been very good", said Dr Reti, but there was still much more that could be done. In particular, he pointed the finger at Pharmac. 

"To be frank, this hasn't been Pharmac's crowning year of glory around vaccination," he says.

"What's the surprise, what's the epiphany? We've known what the trends are overseas, we know that we vaccinate for influenza, for example, every year - what's the surprise?"


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