The fight against Measles

Jonathan receiving his MMR vaccine two months early
Jonathan receiving his MMR vaccine two months early

One of the worst things about parenting is taking a child along to the doctor’s clinic to get your child immunised. It is the most counter-intuitive thing in the world for a caregiver, to let someone inflict acute pain on your child while you communicate unconvincingly through your cracked voice that everything is okay, and it will all be over soon. Babies are smart. After a few times, they begin to recognise the nurse’s room and a sense of dread spreads over their faces when the nurse appears with her plastered smile doing her best to tough it out for the sake of protecting children against dreaded illnesses. It’s worse when you take nana – ‘Kalofae si o’u kama (my poor darling)’ – her pained look parallels my son’s eventual howl. What happened to all those ground-breaking innovations touted over the years you wonder, to make vaccines pain-free for children – oral vaccines, discs, even edible ones. Surely we should will these to be expedited to prevent anxiety, stress and pain – for the parents, let alone the children.

“Babies are smart. After a few times, they begin to recognise the nurse’s room and a sense of dread spreads over their faces when the nurse appears with her plastered smile …”

But one thing’s clear. Measles would be worse. My son has already been in and out of hospital with a duplex kidney. He’s otherwise healthy and goes about life as most other 10-month olds. But a disease like the measles could render him critical. So here I am. Not for a scheduled vaccination, but for an early and extra jab to protect my 10-month-old against measles. 

What was once a near-eradicated disease, is now on a continual rise that has yet to peak and has forced the opening of a new measles unit at Middlemore Hospital. It spread throughout central and west Auckland before we began to see the South Auckland rise. Herd immunity (look it up) has been lost thanks to the spread of another virus – online memes. The easily swayed have been most vulnerable to this infliction. We need a vaccination against these memes, a digital immunity against the unevidenced. Pacific children have the highest rates of immunisation in NZ, but rates for all ethnicities have been on a slight decline. We need to halt this before the impact becomes more widespread. As a gateway between NZ and the Pacific region, caution is being heeded for travel in and out of Auckland.

As a parent, I think vaccinations are awful. But knowing my son has some protection against measles helps to ease the anxiety of the whole dreadful ordeal.

What’s ‘herd immunity’, please?
When levels of vaccination in a community are high enough, contagious diseases like measles are unable to gain a foothold and those without immunity are protected. In an unvaccinated population, someone with measles will infect between 14 and 18 other people, but just two doses of the MMR vaccines protects 99 out of 100 vaccinated people. And provided 95 out of every 100 people are successfully vaccinated, there is a very high probability that those without immunity will be safe.

Don Rowe, The SpinOff, Cheat sheet: NZ might have just lost herd immunity to measles. Now what? August 30, 2019 with the support of The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a national institute devoted to scientific research.

Don Rowe, The SpinOff, Cheat sheet: NZ might have just lost herd immunity to measles. Now what? August 30, 2019 with the support of The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a national institute devoted to scientific research.

What is measles?

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in humans.  In other words, measles can easily be passed from one person to the other.  You can easily avoid getting measles by having the vaccine, making measles the third most common vaccine-preventable cause of death among children throughout the world.

Other names for measles:

English measles, morbilli and rubelo

Recommendations 

People living in our Auckland communities

All one-year-old children living in Counties Manukau, Auckland and the Waitemata District Health Boards (DHB) can receive their first MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) early. This provides them with some protection from getting measles. This immunisation has been moved forward for babies allowing them to get this vaccine at 12 months rather than 15 months.

All doctors are able to provide all four 15 month immunisations at the one visit to make it easier for mums and families.  The other vaccines also help protect against invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD), Haemophilus Influezae (Hib) and chickenpox infections.

The rest of New Zealand

In other parts of New Zealand, the chances of catching measles are low.  It is okay to give the normal immunisation at the correct time with the MMR given at the scheduled months of 15 months and 4 years.

If your older children and you or your family members who are adults aged up to 50 years have not had the measles vaccine or are unsure and have it nowhere written, it is strongly recommended that you go to your local doctors and get immunised.  This is for New Zealand wide, including Auckland.

Does the measles immunisations cost?

ITS FREE two doses of MMR are free for eligible people; however, some doctors may have to bring you back for the second dose.

Does it work?

95% chance of being immune to the virus after the first dose

95% chance of having immunity to measles from people who receive two MMR doses (given at least four weeks apart, and the first dose given after age 12 months)

Please check with your doctor or well-child nurse if you are unsure.

What’s happening around New Zealand around Measles

New Zealand is becoming one of the most preferred holiday destinations due to its beautiful scenic landscapes and diverse population groups.  However, the arrival of various visitors into New Zealand from 2012, has seen the emergence of measles. This puts risks on the following groups to catch measles:

  • People who have not been immunised against measles 
  • People who have never had measles
  • People who are immune-compromised due to sickness or a treatment

The below table shows the number of confirmed measles cases confirmed in New Zealand between 1 January – 30 August 2019. 
As of 23 August 2019, 282 people with measles had been hospitalised. 

Location by District Health BoardCumulative number of confirmed measles cases in 2019
Northland23 cases
Auckland region759 cases
Waikato17 cases
Lakes6 cases
Bay of Plenty27 cases
Taranaki4 cases
Hawkes Bay3 cases
MidCentral1 case
Wellington region19 cases
Wairarapa1 case
Canterbury41 cases
South Canterbury1 case
Southern4 cases