New Zealand is facing a serious outbreak of measles with 25 confirmed cases. A nationwide alert has been sounded and vaccines against the viral disease are being sent to the affected areas.
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The outbreak is the worst that the nation has seen in recent years and is likely to spread over the coming weeks. Around one-fifth of the individuals living in the affected region of Canterbury are unvaccinated.
In a statement, the Canterbury District of Health said "It can now be assumed that measles is circulating widely in our community”.
New Zealand’s third-largest city, Christchurch and the areas around it are running short of vaccines, putting more and more children at risk, say officials. The first measles vaccine is administered around the age of 12 months when the risk of getting the infection is at it's highest.
The advent of anti-vaxxer groups (people who choose not to vaccinate themselves or their children against vaccine-preventable infections), has resulted in a number of sporadic outbreaks of measles across developed nations around the world.
Vaccine conspiracy theories, as well as fears of vaccines linked with autism in children, are clear to see on social media and other areas of the internet. Such messages are deterring many parents from getting their children vaccinated. The World Health Organization recently warned that anti-vaccination organizations are one of ten major global health threats this year.
Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ramon Pink said that the disease was now “widespread” and the unimmunized or those who are inadequately immunized are at risk.
Immunization is the only sure way to avoid getting measles. Those aged between 29 and 50 will only have had one measles vaccination and are not considered immune.
Given their higher risk, our focus over the short term is to provide MMR immunizations to those under 29 years who are not fully vaccinated. People between the ages of 29 and 50 can expect to get a measles vaccine from their general practice in a week or two.”
Dr. Ramon Pink, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health
The Canterbury district health board said in a statement, “Unimmunized people who come within two meters of an infectious person, however briefly, have a 90% chance of contracting measles.”
According to the reports, the first case was reported in Canterbury in February. The cases have mainly been appearing among those who were born before 1969 and those who are not fully immunized.
To combat the outbreak, around 3000 and a further 18000 doses of measles vaccine have been sent to Canterbury this week. During the coming weeks, a total of around 100,000 doses of vaccines will reach Canterbury.
According to the ministry of health in New Zealand, all cases of measles reported since 2012 have come from travelers who spread the disease to unvaccinated locals.