Hunt concerned as measles on the rise

Measles rash on boy
Measles rash, day three. Picture courtesy of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

With another new case of measles identified in NSW and Queensland, Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced an awareness campaign about the disease and its vaccine

The campaign follows the announcement that more pharmacists will be able to administer the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in Queensland, following the lowering of the age of patients they can vaccinate.

“I am concerned about the recent increases in measles cases in Australia and want to make sure our community is well protected against this very serious disease,” said Mr Hunt in a statement.

“As at 5 April 2019, there had been 83 measles notifications in 2019, compared with 103 for the whole of 2018 and 81 for the whole of 2017.”

More cases have since been identified, with an international traveller becoming unwell after travelling from Melbourne, to Sydney, to Brisbane.

NSW Health advised backpackers and XPT train passengers to be alert for measles symptoms after the man was infectious at a number of locations in Sydney between April 2 and April 6. He is now being treated in a Brisbane hospital.

The case takes the number of cases in NSW since Christmas 2018 to 34.

It means that Queensland has now seen 12 measles cases reported in 2019 – compared to 14 for the entirety of 2018.

Greg Hunt said that he was “very pleased” that 93.5% of two-year-old children have received two doses of measles vaccine.

“However, we know we need 95% of our community vaccinated to achieve community immunity, to help prevent the spread of measles,” he said.

He urged Australians to check their measles immunisation history – particularly those who are planning to go overseas, and those born between 1966 and 1994. Some of the latter group may only have had one dose of vaccine, and two are recommended for full protection.

As a result these people are at higher risk of contracting the disease, he said.

After consulting with Chief Medical Officer Professor Brenden Murphy on the issue, Mr Hunt said he was “pleased to announce that the Australian Government has commissioned the independent and highly qualified Australian Academy of Science to work closely with measles experts to develop materials to raise awareness about measles amongst the community, with a particular focus on those most at risk of the disease such as travellers, and health professionals”.

“The Australian Academy of Science will develop and distribute promotional material to raise awareness amongst individuals and health professionals about the risks of measles and the importance of being fully vaccinated against the disease,” he said.

“The promotion will be primarily through online channels and through engagement through media channels.”

It will comprise:

  • A measles explainer, to describe the disease’s epidemiology and symptoms.
  • An educational video for health professionals to raise awareness of increased notifications and the importance of talking to patients about their vaccination status and the availability of catch up vaccines (where appropriate);
  • A promotion for travellers to ensure they are aware of the risks of measles in countries where the disease is endemic or where there are outbreaks, and that a cost effective vaccination option is available to protect them from the disease; and
  • A promotion for those born between 1966 and 1994, to encourage them to check their vaccination status and talk to their GP if they are not sure.

“The videos will roll out in the coming weeks,” Mr Hunt said.

From last week, accredited pharmacists in Queensland gained the ability to vaccinate children aged 16 and over with the MMR vaccine, a move welcomed by the state branches of the Guild and the PSA.

Queenslanders from 16 years of age can now get vaccinated for influenza, pertussis (whooping cough) and measles at a pharmacy, 

“Previously only GPs could vaccinate under 18s,” said Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Steven Miles.

“Queenslanders aged 16 and over can get their vaccinations without parental consent, so these changes will make it much easier for them to access vaccinations like the flu shot.

“This will also make life easier for parents with teenage children.”

Mr Miles said the amendments also allow younger Queenslanders to make their own decisions about getting vaccinated.

“This is a step in the right direction for Queensland to reduce the barriers for kids of anti-vax parents to gain access to vaccines for preventable diseases,” Mr Miles said.

“It also brings Queensland into line with other states and territories.”


Tots and vaccines

Meanwhile when it comes to younger children, the TGA has announced that it is closely controlling the supply of Priorix-Tetra vaccine 0.5mL for injection, with supply expected to be impacted from 30 April 2019 to 31 October 2019.

Priorix Albumin Free Vaccine 0.5mL powder for injection was also placed on the list earlier this month and is expected to be in critical shortage until May 15.

The news comes as for the first time ever in NSW, vaccination rates for one-year-olds have shot past the 95% herd immunity figure to a record 96.25% coverage.

NSW Health research found more than a third of one-year-olds recorded as overdue for their jabs by the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) were not at all.

Lead researcher Charlee Law said the findings were a surprise, but also great news, and will help NSW Health to better target those children slipping through the vaccination net.

“Vaccination rates in NSW have been steadily climbing thanks to record investment in immunisation programs and these results confirm everyone’s hard work,” Ms Law said.

“While this is fantastic news for the community, what the current national measles issue shows us is that parents can never be complacent when it comes to vaccination.”

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