Jacinda Ardern's 'strong message to everyone' on Canterbury measles outbreak

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has urged people in Canterbury to get immunised amid an alarming measles outbreak. 

"It wasn't that long ago that we thought that measles was well under control," the Prime Minister told More FM on Wednesday. 

"No one can rely on that mentality of 'I'll be right' because everyone else is immunised. That's my strong message to everyone."

The Ministry of Health says it is working closely with Pharmac and Canterbury DHB to respond to the local Canterbury measles outbreak and ensure our national immunisation schedule continues on track elsewhere in the country.

There are currently 27 confirmed cases, with a further 20 suspected cases being checked.

Health Minister Dr David Clark also pressed people on Tuesday to ensure their vaccinations are up-to-date as more of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was sent to Canterbury. 

"Vaccination is the best protection against this serious and highly infectious virus that spreads very easily from person to person," Dr Clark said. 

Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris told The AM Show on Wednesday that approximately 65 New Zealand patients are currently being treated for the disease, which she says is one of the "most infectious known to man". 

Dr Clark said the MMR vaccine is "very effective and it's free", adding that the Government is working with its drug-buying agency, Pharmac, as well as the Canterbury District Health Board and the Ministry of Health to ensure there's enough vaccine to go around. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister Dr David Clark.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister Dr David Clark. Photo credit: Getty
The MMR vaccines arriving in Christchurch.
The MMR vaccines arriving in Christchurch. Photo credit: Newshub

The Government said on Tuesday a total of 18,000 extra doses of the vaccine had been sent to Canterbury, and will be available for use from Wednesday. It said further supplies of the vaccine will follow. 

Last week supplies of the vaccine ran low, prompting outrage from some parents who had been advised to immunise their children immediately, but were told by GPs that their supplies of the vaccine had run out. 

When asked why there was a delay for extra vaccinations to get to Canterbury, the Prime Minister said the situation was unique, in that demand for the MMR vaccination increased suddenly as it would with any outbreak. 

"I know that the Minister of Health actually intervened as quickly and directly as he could to make sure that we've got the supply that we need down in Canterbury as of [Wednesday], so that's on its way," she told More FM. 

The Government has strongly advised parents to immunise children as they are "at the greatest risk from the disease," adding that it's "important to make sure you and your family are up to date with their immunisations". 

"Measles is highly contagious and it is in everyone's best interest that people in these priority groups get vaccinated, both to protect themselves and the wider community."

Anyone who suspects they may have measles has been advised to avoid contact with other people, and to call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or to call you GP. The Government said calls to GPs after hours will be answered by a nurse who will advise what to do. 

"If you are not sure that you're immune to measles or don't know if you have had two doses of the MMR vaccine, talk to your doctor and get immunised," Dr Clark said. 

The symptoms to look for include a red blotchy rash that appears on around day four of illness, the Ministry of Health says. It's a respiratory illness so symptoms can include a dry cough, runny nose and headache. 

The priority groups for MMR vaccine

  • Children 12 months to 5 years who have never had the vaccine
  • Children and young adults aged 5 to 28 who haven't been immunised or only had one MMR dose
  • Adults aged 29 to 50 who would have only had one dose of measles vaccine