"Measles is one of the most infectious viruses on Earth, and possibly the most contagious among people." That's according to Professor David Hayman, a director at Massey University's Infectious Disease Research Centre. Now Rotorua is geographically right in the middle of the latest outbreak in the Lakes and Bay of Plenty District Health Boards but no cases have been detected in the city so far. Nonetheless, the close threat has put extra pressure on Rotorua medical centres to respond to urgent requests for vaccinations for those unprotected.
Rotorua medical centres have seen a rise in parents and adults catching up on their measles vaccines, after an outbreak of the disease in the Bay of Plenty and Taupō regions.
The demand for the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is significantly higher than usual in the Lakes and Bay of Plenty District Health Boards, according to the New Zealand Immunisation Advisory Centre.
Since April 1, there have been 19 measles cases in the Western Bay of Plenty, and four in Taupō, leaving Rotorua right in the middle.
Most cases have been in young adults and children - the age groups most likely to be unvaccinated - and eight people have been hospitalised.
Toi Te Ora Public Health's Medical Officer of Health, Dr Jim Miller, said of the affected people that 15 were not vaccinated and six had an unknown immunisation status.
He said immunisation provided 95 to 99 per cent protection.
"What is clear, however, is that our current immunisation uptake locally is not high enough to prevent small clusters of cases whenever an infection is brought into the district, usually from overseas."
He said people born before 1969 were also considered to be immune because virtually everyone got measles then.
Ranolf Medical Centre general practitioner Dr Harry Pert said the centre had been getting two to three vaccination inquiries a day for the past month.
Centres are prioritising vaccinating infants and children under 4 because the national supply is under pressure.
"The next priority is people aged between 4 and 50 who have not had any vaccines. We are not catching up others until vaccine supply improves."
He said the demand had been manageable so far.
"But we don't know what will happen with this outbreak. There is the potential for it to get worse. We have a lot of international visitors here ... So we are not complacent by any means."
Pert stressed that if parents suspected their child had measles they should call their clinic and meet a staff member in the car park, rather than bring the child into the waiting room.
"When I was working in a small New Zealand town in the 1990s a child died from the measles and it was such an unnecessary tragedy...There is overwhelming evidence for the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines."
Te Ngae Medical Centre manager Pip Oliver said the centre had put all those outside of the priority groups on a waiting list for now.
"The vaccines are hard to come by at the moment, but when we are provided more we can get the rest of the population done."
Ruatahi Medical Centre manager Raewynne Hayward said things had calmed down.
She said a lot of tertiary students had recently checked on their vaccination status.
Rotorua mother Utana Aitupuna's eight children are all vaccinated, and she said it was not a hard decision.
Her youngest, 5-month-old Zipporah-Reign Tuakeu, has just had her first shot.
Aitupuna said immunising her kids made her feel they were safer.
"I would feel a lot more hesitant about them being at playgroups and school if they weren't."
Aitupuna had found the vaccination process straightforward.
"We always get a message from the doctor just before the kids are due to keep on track."
Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a senior lecturer in vaccinology at the University of Auckland, told the Rotorua Daily Post that previously New Zealand had managed to stay measles-free when infected international visitors arrived.
"Only if we can get our immunisation rates up a bit higher can we be more confident."
Sore and watery "pink" eyes
Sometimes small white spots on the back inner cheek of the mouth
Days 3-7 a blotchy rash can form on the face, behind the ears, over the head, and down the body, lasting up to a week