'This is serious': National Health Coordination Centre activated over measles outbreak

The Ministry of Health has activated the National Health Coordination Centre to direct the response to the highly contagious measles outbreak in Auckland. 

Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter said the ministry will prioritise the "serious" outbreak, with the coordination centre set to monitor the situation in the rest of New Zealand. 

The centre is activated when there are "significant events happening in the health sector", director of public health, Caroline McElnay, said on Friday. 

The centre was last activated following the Kaikōura earthquake, that struck in 2016. 

She said the centre will provide a "single point of contact" in Wellington for district health boards (DHBs) to "get a better picture of what's happening". 

Genter said despite an additional 57,000 MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines administered in the last six months, the measles outbreak has worsened. 

"As of earlier today, there have been 762 confirmed cases of measles in the Auckland region," the minister, also a Green MP, said at a press conference," Genter said. 

In addition to the 731 confirmed cases of the infection this year, three cases have been confirmed in Waikato, and there have been cases in Taranaki and Queenstown. 

"I want to reassure the public that coordinating the response to the measles outbreak will be a top priority for the Ministry of Health in the coming days."

Director of public health, Caroline McElnay.
Director of public health, Caroline McElnay. Photo credit: Newshub

The minister would not describe the situation as a "crisis", however, labelling it more of an "outbreak", and said it was something "we need to respond to", nonetheless. 

"People under the age of 50, especially children, who have not been vaccinated, should seek a free vaccination from their doctor as soon as possible."

Genter said three outreach centres in south Auckland have been set up by the Counties Manukau DHB) where people can go to get free MMR vaccinations. 

  • Free Church of Tonga, Mangere, Saturday 31 August (9am-3pm)
  • Manukau SuperClinic, Manukau, Saturdays (8.30am-3pm)
  • Clendon Public Nursing Office, Clendon Shopping Centre, Manurewa (daily, 9.30am-3pm)

Genter said the DHB will be training 25 school nurses for a programme covering 34 high schools including alternative education and teen parent units.

Genter also defended comments made by Labour Minister Willie Jackson on The AM Show Friday morning. He said he was tired of anti-vaxxers getting labelled "nutters and maniacs".

She said Jackson had a point that insulting people isn't the best approach to convincing vaccination sceptics that it's safe and necessary. 

The Government's response on Friday followed an announcement on Wednesday that extra nurse vaccinators would be sent to malls, schools and churches in south Auckland. 

In response to the outbreak, New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) announced on Friday that its rugby league competition would be cancelled over concerns of the infection spreading. 

South Auckland's Manurewa High School has told its students they can't come to school unless they can bring proof of immunisation.

Measles has officially been eradicated from New Zealand and all-new outbreaks have originated from overseas. The last Kiwi deaths from it were recorded nearly 30 years ago.

You can contact the healthline: 0800611116