health & science

Take measles vaccine to the people

Pharmacies, sports fields, hui and homes are being suggested as places to reach those who aren’t fully vaccinated against measles.

Pharmacists and a Māori primary health care provider think people should be able to get vaccinated where it’s convenient for them.

News this week of two second trimester foetal deaths to mothers who had caught measles came as the number of measles cases in New Zealand this year reached 1604.

Experts have been warning a measles outbreak was likely for several years due to gaps in vaccination levels and recommended the Ministry of Health conduct a catch-up campaign. This has not happened. 

Stocks of the MMR vaccine have run low for the second time this year, and the vaccine is being rationed, with children aged five and under as a priority. This should change when 100,000 doses of the MMR vaccine arrive in New Zealand in a few weeks. Another 70,000 doses are due in a few months.

Te Kōhao Health managing director Lady Tureiti Moxon said the foetal deaths were frightening, and thinks vaccines needs to be available where the people are. 

Her Waikato-based organisation has texted members who need to get vaccinated to offer two pop-in clinics which she said weren’t well-attended. She puts this down to people struggling financially and finding it hard to juggle work and family commitments.

“We really need to be taking it into the home. With our mobile nurses, Plunket, Tamariki Ora and community nurses - if they have their vaccination certificate - they should all be immunising.”

She said with mobile computing it was easy to access the National Immunisation Register to see whether a child was up-to-date with vaccinations. This could even be done at hui, or sports fixtures. 

“It’s just like anything. You’ve got to be proactive, you can’t be passive.”

New Zealand has large pockets of unvaccinated and partially-vaccinated people. Most of the measles cases this year have been in the 20 to 29 year age group. In this group many are likely to be employed and may find taking time off work to get to a doctor's appointment difficult.

Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand president Ian McMichael is also keen to see vaccination be easier for people to access without seeing a doctor. He’s calling for a formal vaccination catch-up plan and thinks pharmacies should be allowed to administer the vaccine. 

“The problem at the moment is that they [Ministry of Health] say pharmacists can’t do it because of access to the National Immunisation Register. I don’t think that problem is insurmountable.”

Since 2005, records of vaccinations have been entered into the National Immunisation Register. Pharmacists already access this to enter details of recipients of influenza vaccine, and the vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. They currently do not have access to enter details of measles vaccine. 

He’s not sure what the issue is: “I don’t know. I keep on asking.”

“It is now urgent that the Ministry of Health amend the policies and regulations governing who can provide MMR vaccinations to include accredited pharmacist vaccinators, and for Pharmac to fund the delivery of this service,” said McMichael.

He said with around 1000 pharmacists trained to give vaccines, with more in training, it made sense to use pharmacies as part of the solution in vaccination campaigns.

“You need to have it so it’s readily-available, so you can go and get it on a Saturday morning when it’s convenient for you.”

He said pharmacies were often open for longer hours than doctors, and no appointment was needed.

Since pharmacies first offered the influenza vaccine in 2005, the number of recipients has grown from 500 in 2009 to 75,000 this year. If vaccine stocks had not run out this year, the number would likely be higher. 

“There’s a whole population base we’re reaching which wouldn’t be reached by GPs.”

The Ministry of Health's focus is the current outbreak and ensuring scheduled immunisations continue. It has not confirmed a national catch-up campaign but hasn't ruled one out. 

Read more:

'Shameful' measles outbreak predicted

Why we don't have enough measles vaccines

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