As health professionals urge New Zealanders to get vaccinated in light of the national measles epidemic that continues to spread, reports are emerging of patients being turned away for MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccines.
In response to a story Now To Love published on Tuesday, in which Immunisation Advisory Centre director Dr Nikki Turner urged Kiwis to get vaccinated, Steve Smith from Wellington said that he has made several attempts since March to book his second vaccination at his doctor's surgery, and each time has been turned away.
"I found my Plunket book from 45 years ago and noticed I need a booster shot," he said. "I booked in on 14 March this year for the shot and have enquired twice since as to why one is not available for me. I took this quite seriously to set a good example and six months later the medical centre, government and entire health sector can't be arsed to source one for me."
Smith said he "gave up trying".
"Seriously, why bother when no one else does? Might as well get immunity from catching the damn thing, will probably act faster than the health sector," he said.
Now To Love reader Rochelle Johnston says she had a similar experience.
"I'm also 45 and when I tried to get the second one I got told that I couldn't have it as they were only concentrating on the ones that hadn't had it at all. I was told that with one shot I was probably about 95 per cent covered but if I wanted to check this I had to have a blood test. Only thing is you have to pay for the blood test and it was about $90 and I thought, I'm not paying to see if I'm fully immunized when the actual immunization is free."
But Dr Nikki Turner urges New Zealanders to keep trying.
She explains, "The ideal is for everybody to have two MMRs (measles, mumps, rubella vaccinations) but when resources are restricted the first MMR is the most important."
There is no shortage of vaccines, she says.
"We currently have enough MMR in the country but I understand the resource constraints at the moment are at the frontline, in particular frontline nurses. And of course if everybody is suddenly wanting MMR on the same day we do have the potential to have problems; prioritisation needs to take place. We apologise," she says.
The priority is all young children getting their first MMR at one year of age, Dr Turner says.
"All young children must have that and their second at four years of age.
"The second priority is then young and midlife adults.
"We would like everybody up to the age of 50 to have two MMRs but realistically the priority is children, adolescents and young adults up to 30 - then after that all of us in the community up to the age of 50."
Dr Turner says the Immunisation Advisory Clinic is pushing for broader access to vaccines for New Zealanders.
"We'd love to see broader access. We're talking about whether we can get MMR available in pharmacies."
New Zealanders can currently receive vaccines against influenza (the flu), whooping cough, meningococcal disease and shingles at some Unichem and Life Pharmacies, with some pharmacies housing trained vaccinators.
Adding the MMR vaccine to pharmacy services would help take the pressure off general practices, Dr Turner says. "But it requires setting up."
The number of confirmed cases of measles in New Zealand since January now sits at 991, according to the Ministry of Health.
Dr Turner told Now To Love on Tuesday that she and her colleagues were not surprised that New Zealand is now facing an epidemic.
"We've been asking the government for quite a few years now, saying that this is a risk, because we know there's a lot of adults who missed out on their vaccines when they were young and so we knew this was likely. This is very disappointing but it's not a surprise," she said.
"The reason we're having an epidemic of measles is because historically we didn't do so well with immunisation coverage," she explained.
"The major problem is there's a lot of young to mid-life adults walking around who didn't get fully vaccinated when they were young. The systems didn't work so well and people weren't reminded. So, firstly, we've got to get our systems working properly. People need to be reminded to get their vaccinations."
To be fully immunised you need two measles-containing vaccinations in your lifetime - the first when you're around 12 months old and the second at four years old. But Dr Turner says people have become confused because the second vaccine used to be given at different ages, no records were kept and reminders about booster shots were not sent out.
If you're not sure if you're fully vaccinated don't waste time trying to hunt for records, just "go and get vaccinated", is her advice.
"It's perfectly safe to get another vaccine," she says. "Even if you are already immune your body will deactivate it, so it's perfectly safe. There's no problem with accidentally having too much."
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