Willie Jackson tired of anti-vax parents being labelled 'nutters and maniacs'

Labour MP Willie Jackson says he's tired of anti-vaxxers getting labelled "nutters and maniacs".

The comments, made on The AM Show on Friday, come as Auckland battles its biggest measles outbreak in two decades. There are now more than 700 confirmed cases, with the highly infectious disease on Thursday spreading to Waikato.

"With the number of cases in south Auckland and that being almost part of the Waikato, it was inevitable - as long as the cases were high in south Auckland - that we would get some," Waikato DHB Medical Officer of Health Richard Hoskins told Newshub, saying it's possible up to 20 percent of youngsters aren't immunised.

Despite Labour being in Government for two years now, Jackson said the National Party has to take "some of the responsibility for this of course, when you look at the minimal investment in terms of the health system, the miserable budgets they put up".

But he hesitated to blame parents who fail to vaccinate their children.

"I do respect people who make that choice for their families. I do get tired of them being labelled 'nutters' and 'maniacs'. Look, I believe in [vaccines] absolutely because you see what happens. But some families and some couples make reasonable decisions in regards to their kids."

While it's true some people can't be vaccinated for genuine health reasons, widespread outbreaks can only happen when a significant number of those who can get vaccines don't. 

Herd immunity for measles requires about 95 percent immunisation coverage to work according to the Ministry of Health. This level of coverage reduces the chances the measles virus can find a new host to infect, preventing its spread, and keeping people who can't be vaccinated for genuine reasons - such as illness or age - safe from the disease. 

Judith Collins and Willie Jackson on The AM Show.
Judith Collins and Willie Jackson on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show

National's Judith Collins, appearing on The AM Show alongside Jackson, said anti-vaccination arguments were a "bunch of rubbish". She contracted measles at 20.

"I had to be kept in a dark room because it can actually lead to blindness when you're older. We didn't have vaccinations for it when I was a kid. Please don't do this to your kids... if you don't do this, it's really dangerous."

A 1998 study which popularised the link between vaccines and conditions like autism was later found to be fraud, with the doctor behind it set to gain financially from his "elaborate hoax"

South Auckland's Manurewa High School has told its students they can't come to school unless they can bring proof of immunisation. Jackson said there were no plans to make that compulsory for all schools in the affected area.

"I don't know if I'd go that far. But you're looking at what's happening now with measles, and if I was part of a board, you might have to make that decision. I don't like holding a big stick over people... but I think if you've got a crisis happening, you might have to make that type of decision."

The last New Zealand deaths from measles were recorded nearly 30 years ago. In 2017, 110,000 people died of the disease globally - most of them kids under five years old.