The battle against the growing measles outbreak has gone national.
The Ministry of Health this afternoon activated the National Health Coordination Centre to coordinate the response to the outbreak in Auckland, and monitor the situation in the rest of New Zealand, Associate Minister of Health Julie Anne Genter said.
"The NHCC will work with Auckland DHBs and the Auckland regional Public Health Service and strengthen the response.
"People under the age of 50, especially children, who have not been vaccinated, should seek a free vaccination from their doctor as soon as possible."
As of earlier today there had been 762 confirmed cases of measles in the Auckland region, Genter said.
"Despite an additional 57,000 MRR vaccines administered in the last six months, New Zealand has not escaped the outbreak of measles occurring globally ... I want to reassure the public that co-ordinating the response to the measles outbreak will be a top priority for the Ministry of Health in the coming days."
Speaking to media this afternoon, Genter again urged people to get vaccinated – specifically children.
"It is vitally important people get their vaccinations."
Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay, who was with Genter speaking to media, said the NHCC is only activated when there are "significant events happening in the health sector".
Genter stopped short of calling the outbreak a crisis and said it was not at an epidemic level yet.
It would only become an epidemic if it spreads to a significant number of other regions in New Zealand, she said.
At the moment, there is a clear concentration of cases in South Auckland. Measles affects young children the worst, McElnay said.
"The absolute worst that can happen is you can actually die from measles – although that is a rare event."
But she said infected people could also get brain inflammations which could have long-lasting health effects.
The long-lasting effects include hearing problems, for example.
Genter said New Zealand had no shortage of MRR vaccinations.
The outbreak, which started in January and is the worst in New Zealand in 22 years, has swept the nation and Counties Manukau is the hardest hit with at least 500 confirmed cases.
Fears of continued spread of the highly-contagious viral illness prompted the New Zealand's secondary schools rugby league competition, due to be played in South Auckland next week, to be cancelled, and several South Auckland schools have also asked unvaccinated children to stay home.
The alarming increase in people falling ill has prompted pleas for people to vaccinate themselves and their children, if old enough and unimmunised, from high profile people ranging from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to boxer Joseph Parker.
Counties Manukau DHB has opened three outreach centres in South Auckland where people can go to get free MMR vaccinations over the weekend, Genter said this afternoon.
They are at:
- Free Church of Tonga, Mangere, Saturday August 31, 9am-3pm
- Middlemore Hospital Emergency Department, Manukau, Daily
- Clendon Public Nursing Office, Clendon Shopping Centre, Manurewa, Daily, 9.30am-3pm
More information was also available via Healthline on 0800 611 116, Genter said.
"The additional five vaccinator nurses have been deployed to provide extra free services in Middlemore hospital and other outreach centres in South Auckland.
"Counties Manukau DHB will be training 25 school nurses for a programme covering 34 high schools including alternative education and teen parent units."
Schools are required to follow instructions from their local Medical Officer of Health.
Information about when it is safe to return to school is given by the local Medical Officer of Health, said Julie Anne Genter.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
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.
More information on the virus is available here.