As the number of measles cases grow, a call has been made to ensure early childhood teachers are vaccinated.
National’s early childhood education spokesperson Nicola Willis has urged the Government to make the MMR vaccine available to early childhood teachers.
She said many teachers would belong to the cohort of adults who were significantly less likely to have received an MMR booster when they were children. Boosters weren’t introduced until the 1990s.
“There’s no sense in vaccinating only under-fives and not the adults who come into contact with young children every day.”
West Coast early childhood teacher Jo Newburry tried to get her booster, but was turned down. She falls in the age group that has only had one vaccination for measles.
“The nurses did try but said due to the changes (in priority) their hands were tied. But it doesn’t make sense when we are on the front line.”
She said the West Coast’s isolation was “a bonus” at present.
“But wouldn’t preventive action be better than ambulance at the bottom of the cliff?”
Fellow early childhood teacher Ema Beard has had both measles vaccinations but has no immunity to the disease. She is also pregnant.
“I do think teachers should be prioritised. Many people like me probably think they are immune due to being vaccinated as a child and or teen, but may actually not be, like me.”
She said her midwife and doctor were keeping a close eye on the number of cases in her local community.
“If the community cases increase, or any cases happen at work or school, I’ll be out in a flash. I’ve had to cancel attending a professional development conference in two weeks held in Auckland as it is too risky.”
The Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said measles was a notifiable disease.
“Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our children and the laws governing early learning services are there to protect them.”
She said laws did not “specifically require” caregivers to be vaccinated against diseases, including measles.
“However, they are very clear that services and caregivers need to do all they can to limit the likelihood of a child or adult being exposed to them.”
If measles occurred at a centre — either of a child or an adult — services were required to exclude those affected for at least five days from the onset of a measles rash.
Services were also expected to contact their local public health authority for advice when an illness appeared to be affecting many children or adults, she said.
“We would also expect services to be open with families about the processes and protections they have in place to help keep children in their care healthy and safe.”
The Ministry of Health said its current priorities were ensuring all children receive their MMR vaccines on time at 15 months, or 12 months of age in Auckland, and at 4 years old.
It was also vaccinating groups who are most affected by the outbreak in the Auckland area — those under five, those aged 15 to 29 years, and Pacific peoples within those groups.
‘Catch-up’ plan for MMR
Meanwhile The Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand is urging the Ministry of Health to implement a ‘catch-up plan’ for MMR.
President Ian McMichael said pharmacists could be part of the solution to the country’s falling immunisation rates.
“There is a robust, proven set of procedures which pharmacist vaccinators follow when providing vaccinations to the public and they are trained the same as other health professionals to carry out vaccination services.”
Pharmacists could already provide vaccinations for influenza, shingles, Tdap (tetanus, diptheria and whooping cough), and meningitis (meningococcal), but not MMR, he said.
“It is now urgent that the Ministry amend the policies and regulations governing who can provide MMR vaccinations to include accredited pharmacist vaccinators, and for Pharmac to fund the delivery of this service.”