With 34 measles cases confirmed in Northland, pharmacists are calling on the Ministry of Health to let them provide the vaccines to stop the disease spreading into the region from bigger cities.

Of the 963 confirmed cases across the country as of yesterday, 804 were in Auckland, which is the only centre with an official outbreak declared so far.

Measles is a viral illness that causes a skin rash and fever. It is very contagious.

Northland District Health Board medical officer for Health, Dr Catherine Jackson, said those planning to travel to Auckland should be vaccinated against measles at least two weeks before their trip.

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She said people who have early symptoms of measles such as fever, cough, runny nose and sore eyes should not travel.

Around one in 10 Northland children and one in four teenagers haven't had an MMR vaccine.

Those most at risk are children and adults under 50 years who have not been immunised for measles, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system.

The best protection from measles is mumps, measles and rubellea (MMR) vaccine which is free from any GP for people aged between 1 and 49 years.

Shane Heswall of Kensington and Maunu Pharmacies said pharmacists could be part of a preventative plan to decrease the risk and increased the chances of favourable health outcomes.

"It is our responsibility, as a health professional, with appropriate qualifications and scope of practice, to vaccinate in any given situation, especially now, when resources are thin and our help is most needed.

"What are the foreseeable consequences if measles spreads throughout Northland? Should we sit on our hands and wait for this to happen?"

Heswall said a precedent was set last year when community pharmacy vaccinators successfully immunised a portion of vulnerable teenagers with MenW or meningitis vaccine in Northland.

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As part of business continuation planning, in combination with Northland DHB and Civil Defence, he said Kensington Pharmacy has installed and IT-enabled backup generator, specifically to ensure its vaccine fridges were functionable.

Unichem Kerikeri pharmacy owner Vicki Douglas said she has two vaccinated pharmacists available at any stage to administer measles vaccination.

"We're in an area of high deprivation and in close proximity to Auckland so the chances of measles ending up in Northland in massive amounts is high. It only takes one or two cases for it to spread right throughout," she said.

Whangarei MP Dr Shane Reti said up to a quarter of pharmacists in Northland were vaccination-qualified and in times of a serious outbreak such as now, the ministry should be making use of this resource.

"Pharmacists are accessible for people who may be transient, not registered with a GP or otherwise face difficulties in accessing healthcare and we know that these people are the least likely to be vaccinated."

Whangārei MP Dr Shane Reti is calling on the Ministry of Health to allow pharmacists to administer MMR vaccines in Northland. Photo/Tania Whyte
Whangārei MP Dr Shane Reti is calling on the Ministry of Health to allow pharmacists to administer MMR vaccines in Northland. Photo/Tania Whyte

Reti said district health boards have portable cold chain storage containers available for pharmacies that needed more space to keep measles vaccines at the right temperature.

"It's important that the government mobilises every available option to bring this outbreak to an end, because right now, it's only getting worse."

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said the ministry was urgently exploring a number of options to improve the uptake of MMR vaccine, including discussions with pharmacists.

"There are some issues that need to be worked through before MMR is available in community pharmacies such as funding, reimbursement, classification and record keeping," she said.

McElnay said a small number of pharmacists were already delivering MMR vaccines, usually as part of broader primary care teams.

"The Ministry of Health acknowledges the call for a larger role for pharmacists in tackling measles immunisation rates and closing our immunity gaps."

Children in Whangarei can get a free MMR vaccine at the Child Wellbeing Hub at 22B Commerce Street on Thursdays.

No appointment is needed.

What are the symptoms of measles?
-Symptoms usually begin to show about 10 to 14 days after infection with the virus.
-The illness begins with fever, cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis (inflammation in the eyes), which lasts for 2-4 days.
- It may be possible to see small white spots (Koplik spots) inside the mouth.
- A rash appears 2-4 days after the first symptoms, beginning at the hairline and gradually spreading down the body to the arms and legs. The rash lasts for up to one week.