Health authorities want all babies in Auckland to get their first measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot at 12 months instead of 15 months, as the measles outbreak continues to grow.
The change is being made immediately as the number of cases of measles in Auckland hits 104, with 43 per cent of victims aged under 5. Babies are extremely vulnerable to measles, which is highly infectious and potentially fatal.
The Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) and Ministry of Health want all 12-month-old children in Auckland to get their MMR shot early. There are good supplies of the vaccine in Auckland.
"We have seen a significant number of young babies with measles, many of whom have been hospitalised. Receiving the first dose of MMR at 12 months will increase levels of immunity in the community and provide added protection for these infants," ARPHS clinical director Dr Julia Peters said.
"The virus is now spreading around the Auckland region. The only effective way to reduce the impact of measles is to increase vaccination rates".
Measles is one of the most contagious viruses, and anyone who is not immune and who has been in the same space as someone with the illness is at risk of becoming unwell.
The early symptoms of measles are a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, then a rash.
Starship Children's Hospital has welcomed the change in vaccination schedules. Nurse Leilani Hipa said it was "heartbreaking" to see children suffering from a preventable illness.
"Parents, it's really important you get your children vaccinated so they can avoid catching this horrible virus. Your kids can have the vaccination free of charge at your GP.
"What I tell the families I work with is that vaccination is not just for them, it's for those around them who are vulnerable and are not able to get the vaccination, such as young babies and people undergoing some cancer treatments. Do it for those who can't."
Babies normally get four vaccinations at 15 months - the MMR vaccine and vaccines against invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD), Hib (Haemophilus influenzae) and chickenpox infections. Peters said GPs can give all four vaccines at 12 months to keep things simple.
The second MMR vaccine is due when the child is 4.
Primary care providers are also being asked to recall all under-5s who have missed their first MMR vaccine to make sure they get the shots.
There are currently no changes to the vaccination schedule for other parts of New Zealand.
Anyone else up to 50 with no record of vaccination is also encouraged to get their shots.
The MMR vaccination is free for eligible people (although GP practices may charge an administration fee). Those over 50 are considered immune as they will have been exposed to the disease during their childhood.