New Zealand health authorities are preparing for a major vaccination drive amid warnings that a measles outbreak now sweeping the South Island could reach fatal proportions.
The vaccination program will see 100,000 doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine administered for free in the coming weeks. Three-thousand doses of the vaccines will arrive in the Canterbury District — one of the worst-hit areas — on Sunday, with a further 18,000 doses distributed the following week.
"It can now be assumed that measles is circulating widely in our community,” the Canterbury District Health Board said in a media statement. “The number of confirmed cases of measles in Canterbury now stands at 27 and is likely to rise further over the coming days and weeks.”
This shouldn't be happening - "It can now be assumed that measles is circulating widely in our community” #measles is a serious and sometimes fatal disease #vaccineswork#VaccinesSaveLiveshttps://t.co/5AjPEW7kKT— Dr Krystal Evans (@dr_krystal) March 12, 2019
The free vaccinations will be prioritized to unvaccinated children and young adults under 29, children 12 months to 5 years, and adults who have only received one of the recommended two vaccination doses.
"Given their higher risk, our focus over the short term is to provide immunizations to those under 29 years,” said Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink in a statement. “People between the ages of 29 and 50 can expect to get a measles vaccine from their general practice in a week or two.”
Measles remains the world's most common vaccine-preventable cause of death among children. The highly contagious disease — spread through coughing, sneezing, and close personal contact with an infected person — has a 50% death rate for infected New Zealand children with low immunity.
Measles cases have soared worldwide in 2019. While the overwhelming majority of outbreaks and deaths still occur in low-income African and Asian nations, outbreaks have also been reported in Germany, Canada, the United States, and Japan in the past three months.
Read More: New Zealand and Korea Have Eradicated Measles and Rubella
Soumya Swaminathan, the deputy director general of programs at the World Health Organization (WHO), told the Guardian global measles increases can be linked to parents who are reluctant to vaccinate their children over philosophical and religious grounds or over unfounded fears that vaccines cause autism.
“The resurgence of measles is of serious concern, with extended outbreaks occurring across regions, and particularly in countries that had achieved, or were close to achieving measles elimination,” she stated. “Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of immunized children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating but entirely preventable disease.”