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Govt aims to boost measles vaccination rates among Māori and Pasifika as it pledges millions for campaign

The Government is to invest up to $40 million towards a measles catch-up campaign to immunise 30,000 people aged between 15 and 30 - including in vulnerable Māori and Pasifika communities - against the disease.

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Health officials have secured an extra 350,000 doses of the MMR vaccine. Source: 1 NEWS

The money will go towards a year-long measles-catch-up campaign, Associate Minister of Health Julie Anne Genter announced today at South Auckland's Mangere College.

The Government has secured an extra 350,000 doses of the MMR vaccine already in the country, Ms Genter said. 

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The South Auckland college was one of those badly affected by recent measles outbreaks Source: 1 NEWS

“We are making it as easy as possible for young people, Māori and Pasifika people especially, to get vaccinated."

The Māori and Pasifika communities are vastly overrepresented in New Zealand's measles cases. Pacific people made up 36 per cent of hospitalisations for measles in Counties Manukau last year, while Māori made up 39.6 per cent, according to the New Zealand Medical Journal.

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Ms Genter said previous governments had not prioritised measles vaccinations in the community, resulting in the country falling below the 95 per cent herd-immunity point needed to prevent measles outbreaks. 

“Covid-19 has disrupted immunisation programmes around the world, increasing the risk of severe outbreaks once travel resumes," she said.

“That’s why we’re doing a catch-up campaign focused on the roughly 300,000 young adults aged between 15 and 30 who are not immune to measles, as their immunisation rate is generally too low to prevent a measles outbreak."

Mangere College Principal Tom Webb said the campaign is particularly relevant for his school as last year they had two cases of the measles.

Senior student PJ Campbell says the campaign will help with awareness.

He says there’s currently a bit of a gap when it comes to vaccine awareness.

"It’s not something students willingly express interest in."

"We want to prevent an outbreak from happening in our community and our school, especially after what happened last year."

"It’s the first time I’ve seen 110 students having to stay home for two weeks other than NCEA leave."

However, several Pasifika doctors and health experts have criticised the campaign, calling it years overdue. 

"It is too late. My view is that it is probably better late than never but this should have happened ages ago," Pasifika GP Network chairperson Api Talemaitoga told RNZ.

New Zealand saw 2194 cases of measles since January 1 last year. There have been no measles cases in the country since January 24, 2020.

Dr Talemaitoga called the health authorities' response to help stem the outbreak disorganised.

"I just see it time and time again that, if it was perhaps not a high needs population that was particularly affected, things might have been different," he added.

Ms Genter said the District Health Boards will begin rolling out their measles campaigns shortly, followed by a national campaign later in the year.

She said the National Immunisation Register, set up in 2005, was "no longer fit for purpose", with $23 previously assigned in the Budget to improve it.

The Government's National Immunisation Solution is expected to better monitor those who are receiving measles immunisations and to help roll out of a mass vaccination programme following the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, she said.