Seven people believed to be close contacts of Northland person with measles now remain in isolation as Te Whatu Ora continues to trace further exposed contacts.
This week, the concerned public health agency issued a letter to Northland parents and caregivers advising them to vaccinate their kids against measles.
While the public health agency was in the process of tracing any exposed contacts, officials were uncertain about the source of the infection and raised concerns about possible cases of measles in the wider community.
Pathology Awareness Aotearoa ambassador and microbiologist Dr Juliet Elvy was worried by Northland’s low vaccination rate.
Figures provided by the Te Whatu Ora website show only 76.1 per cent of children in Northland who were 12 months old had completed all their age-appropriate immunisations - as per a three-month reporting period from April to June.
“That’s even lower than the national average, which is at 88 per cent. We need at least 95 per cent of our communities to be vaccinated to prevent any major outbreak.”
Elvy said there was no easy answer to explain Northland’s low immunisation rates, but attributed multiple contributing factors such as people’s personal attitudes towards vaccination, inadequate access, improper education and awareness as possible explanations.
“We need a real co-ordinated effort to make sure people are vaccinating their kids and themselves if they have not already.”
She warned parents and caregivers to not underestimate the viral disease.
If cases of measles were left to go unchecked, then there was an increased risk of transmission to vulnerable communities throughout the region.
“It’s not a disease of the past, since it continues to pose a significant public health threat due to its contagious nature.”
Elvy described the recent case as “surprising”, since as she understood it, the person did not have any international travel history.
She said it was unlike the three people in Auckland who had contracted measles this year, who were all linked to overseas travel.
“I urge Kiwis to keep measles at the forefront of their minds if experiencing rash and cold-like symptoms.”
Te Whatu Ora Medical officer of health Shanika Perera said they were doing their best to manage the current situation.
“It is important for the community to be aware of measles symptoms and remember that vaccination with MMR vaccine is the most effective way to protect your whānau,” she said.
If you or your whānau develop any of these symptoms, please phone your doctor or after-hours clinic before attending. You can also ring Healthline on 0800 611 116 for advice any time.
To find out where you can be immunised, including community clinics and pharmacies, visit: https://www.northlanddhb.org.nz/your-health/health-resources/measles-2/.
Avneesh Vincent is the crime and emergency services reporter at the Advocate. He was previously at the Gisborne Herald as the arts and environment reporter and is passionate about covering stories that can make a difference. He joined NZME in July 2023.