'It's quite shocking': Early childhood teacher seeking measles jab 'turned away'

An early childhood teaching centre employee is "frustrated" after being refused measles vaccinations because she did not meet the Ministry of Health's priority list. 

Learning Tree general manager Rita Chang said she was twice refused a vaccine from a local medical centre, and only got one after "insisting I wasn't going to leave until I got a shot". 

"Children are very vulnerable, and people in the profession who work with them, we're being turned away," the Auckland mum told Newshub. 

GPs have been advised to keep most of their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines for children under the age of five who are most vulnerable to it. 

But Learning Tree centre director Lynne Rice said it's "quite shocking" that teachers, some who have shown to be vulnerable to catching measles, are being refused the jab. 

"I'm talking about teachers who have had a blood test and the blood test has proven they have no immunity... These are teachers who are teaching children every day."

Rice said she thinks all adults should be able to access the vaccine, and "especially this should be a priority for nurses and teachers" in close proximity to vulnerable people. 

"It doesn't make any sense."

Rita Chang.
Rita Chang. Photo credit: Newshub

Similar concerns have been raised by Leanne Mortlock, chief operations officer at Provincial Education Group which operates 59 early childcare centres across New Zealand. 

"We require that our teachers go and get proof of immunity or get themselves a vaccine, particularly because we have overseas teachers who can't prove immunity or don't know if they've been vaccinated," she told Newshub.

"But throughout New Zealand, we've hit pockets of GPs who turn the teachers away and say they can't come and get a booster because they're either short on supply or only saving it for the vulnerable."

Mortlock said some doctors that have been helpful, but she said there have been "plenty that haven't and teachers haven't been able to get a vaccine". 

"I think if they choose to be vaccinated, then they should be allowed access to it because they're caring for thousands and thousands of babies in childcare."

In an email to the Ministry of Health, Mortlock asked if there was a way for communication to be updated to include early childhood workers as a priority group. 

The ministry responded by reiterating the existing priority groups. 

Lynne Rice.
Lynne Rice. Photo credit: Newshub

The priority is to have all children across New Zealand receive their vaccines at 15 months - 12 months in Auckland - and then at four years to maintain the national childhood immunisation schedule. 

The ministry is prioritising groups who are most affected by the outbreak in Auckland, namely children under five years of age, those aged 15-29 years and Pacific peoples within those groups. 

People aged 30-50 have not been considered a priority, but doctors could use their "clinical judgement" on a "case-by-case basis". 

Newshub requested a statement from the ministry, but they did not respond in time. 

Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter told Newshub protecting children directly through maintaining the immunisation schedule has been the priority. 

"Approximately 180,000 people have been vaccinated this year, compared to 95,000 last year. Record levels of vaccine have been delivered throughout New Zealand to ensure everyone is protected."

National MP Nicola Willis.
National MP Nicola Willis. Photo credit: Newshub

A spokesperson for the New Zealand Medical Association said the high demand for MMR is encouraging, but at the moment, most of the vaccine stock must be used to protect those who are most vulnerable. 

Mortlock and Rice have taken their frustrations to National MP Nicola Willis, who is advocating for early childhood teachers to be included in the Ministry of Health's priority list. 

"This isn't good enough," Willis told Newshub. "These teachers are risking their own health, the health of their families and of the children they teach because of the Government's failure to get enough vaccines."

New Zealand received 52,000 fresh stocks of MMR doses two weeks ago, and another 100,000 have been secured - but there is confusion over when they will arrive. 

Genter told Newshub 100,000 vaccines "are coming in the next few weeks and a further 70,000 before the end of the year". 

There have been 1544 confirmed cases of measles notified across New Zealand so far this year, with 1307 of these confirmed cases in the Auckland region.