Government campaign to boost measles vaccination rates

The Government is launching a massive campaign to fight a disease which is eight times more infectious than COVID-19 - measles.

An outbreak of the disease in 2019 saw hundreds of people hospitalised and there's an increased risk of another outbreak once our borders reopen.

Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter announced the million catch-up campaign on Friday which aims to protect thousands of young adults by making it easier to get vaccinated, with immunisations available at schools, workplaces, pharmacies and marae.

There are currently around 300,000 Kiwis aged 15 to 30 who didn't get the vaccine when they were young.

"This campaign is about closing that gap of the young people who missed out on their vaccines. So we'll be safe in the future," Genter said.

The Government's investing up to $40 million for a year-long measles catch-up campaign, providing 350,000 more doses.

But they are also concerned about the risk when travel resumes.

While COVID-19 travel restrictions have given New Zealand a break from measles, it's also disrupted immunisation programmes around the world.  

This means when travel resumes, there'll be an increased risk of severe outbreaks.

There were 2185 measles cases in New Zealand last year, with more than a third ending up in hospital. 

Two cases at Mangere College caused major disruption, forcing hundreds of students to stay home.

Principal Tom Webb recalled "all of those 200 students had to take time off school" while they tracked immunisation records.

The school's lead registered nurse Laura Williams says the new campaign will ensure more young Kiwis are protected.

"It means our families will be able to easily access it so hopefully that makes a difference in our numbers," she said.

The school now has better records and is aiming to reach the 95 percent herd-immunity point.

The Government's campaign will also be fully funding and developing the National Immunisation Solution which Genter says is "no longer fit for purpose".

"That's why this Government has invested $23 million… in efforts to ensure we better monitor who is and isn't getting measles immunisations, and when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, we are ready to roll out a mass vaccination programme," she said.

"Let's protect those around us."