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Immunisation Week a great time to get vaccinated

Immunisation Week a great time to get vaccinated

28 April 2014

This week is New Zealand’s Immunisation Week, so it is the perfect time to think about immunisation and the diseases we can avoid by being vaccinated.

Dr Rob Weir, MidCentral Health’s Medical Officer of Health said: “in the MidCentral DHB area we have high vaccination rates in young children. For example, in the three month period from January to March 2014, 96% of eight month olds and two year olds were fully vaccinated for their age. These levels are significantly higher than the national average and reflect a highly committed team effort. A key part of the team is the General Practitioners and Practice Nurses in our region. They are an invaluable source of information for all vaccinations and the diseases they prevent.”

Dr Weir said: “although our coverage levels at eight months and two years are high this is not a reason to be complacent. With widespread travel these days we are often exposed to infections that could be avoided by vaccination. Even with the high childhood vaccination rates outbreaks still occur. There have recently been high levels of whooping cough in New Zealand. Throughout 2012 and 2013 there were 9439 cases reported in New Zealand, including 227 hospital admissions during 2013 alone.”

During 2012 and 2013 the MidCentral Health Public Health Service were informed of 297 cases of whooping cough. Dr Weir said: “there were likely to be many more cases we weren’t informed of.”

Another important reason for vaccination is measles, with over 120 cases reported in New Zealand since December 2013. The majority of cases have been in Auckland. However, there is concern that cases may arise in the MidCentral DHB area.

Dr Weir said: “MidCentral Health’s Public Health Service has already followed up a number of people who may have had measles and a number of people who were on plane flights that were carrying people who were infectious with measles. Luckily none of these developed into measles. Our last confirmed case of measles was in 2011 and it would be excellent if we could continue to keep measles out of the district.”

Dr Weir said: “People with measles are infectious before they became unwell and it is a very infectious virus. The MMR vaccine is the best form of protection and is usually given at 15 months and four years.”

Immunisation coverage for measles has varied since the vaccine was introduced in 1969. That means there are gaps in immunity against measles, in particular amongst people born between 1989 and 2001. If you are unsure whether you are fully vaccinated it is important that you don’t just assume you are immune to measles.”

Now is also the time to think about having your influenza vaccination if you haven’t already received it. There have already been significant levels of influenza activity in New Zealand and Australia. In New Zealand there have been admissions to intensive care due to the Influenza A, H1N1 strain of the illness. In Queensland, five times the level of cases normally expected by this time of year have already been reported. These have also been predominantly due to the Influenza A virus. There are normally about 400 deaths in New Zealand every year due to influenza with certain groups being at particular risk. This is why influenza vaccination is offered free to people aged 65 years and over, and people with certain medical conditions. It is also offered free to women who are pregnant, and is especially beneficial for both pregnant women and their unborn babies.”

Dr Weir said: “Influenza can affect anyone, no matter how fit, active and healthy you may be. While people with underlying health conditions are most at risk of complications, previously healthy people can also become seriously ill and can also pass it on to others.”

The influenza virus is very contagious so it is easy to spread the disease to your family/whanau and friends if you are infected by the virus. If you avoid becoming infected yourself then you can’t pass the virus on to others around you. Therefore being vaccinated protects both yourself and the people around you.

Dr Weir said: “The influenza vaccine is available in the MidCentral DHB area now. It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to start working so I would recommend having the vaccine as soon as possible. This is especially important since there have already been severe cases within New Zealand and high numbers of cases across the Tasman.”

For more information about immunisations you can phone 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863).

For anyone who suspects they may have measles they should call their GP, or Healthline on 0800 611 116, as soon as possible. It’s important to call before visiting a GP surgery or emergency department, so that staff can take steps to prevent measles being spread to people in the waiting room.


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