United Nations warn region of measles-outbreak threat

The United Nations has warned that there is a high risk of measles being brought into the region with neighbouring countries all declaring outbreaks in the contagious disease.

In a health advisory distributed to media in the region recently, UNICEF says there is an increasing risk of the virus ‘being imported’ into the Pacific, due to large scale breakouts in 11 Pacific rim nations including New Zealand.

The best protection against the virus is vaccination, with the United Nations agency saying 95 per cent immunization coverage in a country is needed in order to fully protect the community.

“For measles, at least 95 per cent immunization coverage is needed to achieve ‘herd immunity’, which helps protect communities by slowing or stopping the spread of the virus because the large majority of people are immune,” the UNICEF advisory states.

“Achieving and sustaining herd immunity reduces the risk of large outbreaks and also protects individuals who can’t be vaccinated, including young infants, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions.

“Despite significant efforts, some Pacific island countries and areas have not reached the 95 per cent immunization coverage target for measles, making them more vulnerable to outbreaks.”

Samoa reportedly had immunisation coverage of about 90 per cent in 2014, but health officials warned in early September that the coverage rate has been falling.

Due to the heightened risk, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF will continue their support of local health authorities and partners in the region, to ensure all high risk groups including children are vaccinated.

The WHO and UNICEF said it is important that all children and adults are up-to-date with their immunizations. The main type of vaccine used in the region against the virus is the Measles-Rubella (MR) and Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR). 

Travellers to the Pacific Islands who are unsure of their measles vaccination status should also get at least one dose of a measles-containing vaccine, at least 15 days prior to travel. 

“If a person is unsure of whether they or their child have received a measles-containing vaccine or have natural immunity through infection, they should be vaccinated again. It is safe to have the vaccine more than twice. We all have a responsibility to protect our communities, and those we are travelling to, by ensuring we are properly vaccinated.”

Measles is caused by a highly infectious virus that spreads easily from person to person through breathing, coughing and sneezing.

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