3 Sep 2019

Improved access to immunisation needed: PM Jacinda Ardern

8:53 am on 3 September 2019

There's a measles outbreak in Auckland - but not the rest of the country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says, and we need to improve access to immunisation.

Prime MInister Jacinda Ardern at Parliament 21 May 2019.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says access to immunisation should not be an issue. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Her comments come as health authorities are warning the measles outbreak in Auckland has not yet reached a peak and they expect cases to continue to climb for the next two weeks.

The prime minister told Morning Report today: "By and large we do have 91 percent of our two-year-olds who have received their immunisation.

"But what we know is that herd immunity actually requires us to get up to about the 95 percent mark ... We have to get our immunisation up. That's the answer.

"We have an outbreak, we have an outbreak in Auckland, and that's driving those numbers for us outside of Auckland.

"I had a good conversation with the director general (of health) and ... in the 1990s we had a similar experience in New Zealand but did manage to get those rates of immunisation up.

"He refers to the issue of immunisation hesitancy. So there's been a lot of focus on whether or not it's been a strong anti-vax movement. And I think there's been a contribution there but I think overall, what we're experiencing in New Zealand is a hesitancy. Now in part, I think that'll be access."

She said access to immunisation should not be an issue.

"What we are talking about here is a free vaccination and for children it's of course free to visit a doctor and it's free to get vaccinations but we do need to make sure we are bringing that service to where people are."

And that was essentially what the government was doing in Auckland with its response to measles, she said.

But she said immunisation targets didn't deliver what was needed.

"No-one is questioning here that we have to get immunisation rates up. It's got to be how we work with DHBs to make sure that's happening, so doing things like directly funding nurses ... getting people in schools, opening them up in community clinics, that's the kind of behaviour we need."

Ms Ardern said nationwide education about vaccinations in general was needed.

"What we don't want is the return of anything else that we should be able to control just through people following the national schedule for immunisations.

"Right now our focus is rightly on measles, this is a global outbreak that we are seeing and we have to make sure that beyond, once this outbreak in Auckland is under control, that there is no complacency. We've got to get from that 91 percent up to 95 percent and beyond."

But she wasn't a fan of compulsory vaccinations.

"I think people are often wary about ... these ideas of compulsion when it comes to people's healthcare.

"I'm not of the view that what we require here (is compulsory treatment) because we've done this before, we've got our rates up before without having to do that, my belief is we can do that again."

On Monday afternoon, the Auckland Regional Public Health Service said there had been 804 cases of measles in the city, up from 778 on Saturday.

More than two thirds of Auckland's infections have been in Counties Manukau. Nationally there have been 963 cases, with over a third of those being hospitalised.

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