Two critical reports into Ministry of Health's measles and influenza campaigns

Two reports into the Ministry of Health's measles and influenza campaigns found confusion, lack of leadership and poor vaccine distribution. Credit: Image - Newshub + Getty; Video - Newshub

Confusion, lack of leadership and poor vaccine distribution. Those are some of the themes laid bare in two critical reports on the Health Ministry's measles and influenza campaigns.

A review of flu vaccine distribution chains found "extreme frustration at the inefficiencies".

It found "vulnerable communities", including Māori and Pasifika "miss out on funded vaccinations".

And a separate report into measles was even more scathing. It found public health was "understaffed" and providers "ran out of vaccine stock" during last year's outbreak. And those in charge lacked training in how to manage such a crisis.

Serious shortcomings in our key vaccination campaigns have been exposed in two reports.

Today, a report on last year's measles outbreak in February acknowledged the frustrations of medical staff and patients in detail.

It found in February Auckland Regional Public Health was "understaffed" and Health Ministry staff "lacked training in outbreak management".

The report said Ministry restructuring over many years complicated the situation.

"Capable teams were in place in 2019 but lacked experience and training in outbreak management. Many initially did not know about Emergency Plans," the report said. 

By May, public health "ran out of resources" to contact-trace all the infected. In July, only 9000 doses of 40,000 had been distributed in Auckland and in September, several providers "ran out of stock".

There was confusion - or in the words of the report "everybody and nobody was responsible for the overall control of the outbreak".

There's disagreement between health experts over how bad the reports are.

"I don't think the reports are scathing," Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield responded.

"The report is damning in that respect," says University of Auckland vaccinologist and Associate Professor Helen Petousis-Harris.

"I think we've seen an erosion of public health. Funding is one of those constraints and this has happened over a long period of time."

An "immunity gap" still exists among Māori and Pacific communities, who suffered the most. Yet such groups had limited input in measles health strategies, services and communications.

"Really pleasing to see that that's been heard, that this report's happened, highlighted these things and given us an opportunity to address these issues,"  Prof Helen Petousis-Harris says.

In April, Newshub revealed the main flu distributor was running out of stock, despite contrary messages from the Ministry.

Today a report on supply chains verified that reporting, noting "extreme frustrations".

The report said doctors were put in "difficult positions with patients encouraged to get vaccinations and arriving to find there was no stock".

However, GPs say they were not even asked by the Ministry to provide input into the review.

"The College of GPs was disappointed it wasn't consulted directly for the flu report," says Dr Bryan Betty from the Royal NZ College of GPs.

Dr Bloomfield, who stated there was plenty of vaccine and for the public to get jabs from their GP, doesn't think he failed to be transparent about the reality.

"I don't think the public was misled at all. When we became aware of distribution issues, and those were raised with us both directly and of course in the media, that's when we stepped in," he says.

But Dr Betty says at times the messaging to the frontline was confused.

"I think it's really important that there's consistent clear communication around issues around vaccine supply and distribution. There needs to be transparency in the system."

He says there's a big job ahead to make sure we're ready for the rollout of a COVID vaccine. 

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