Hundreds rush for measles jabs

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NZSki is seeking advice on whether it can introduce mandatory vaccinations for staff to stop another measles outbreak happening next ski season.

Fifteen ski or snowboard instructors from The Remarkables skifield have now tested positive for the virus, taking the total number of those infected in Queenstown to 19.

It’s also spread to Remarkables Primary School and Queenstown Lakes District Hospital emergency department.

One Queenstown practice has been giving up to 90 measles jabs a day, as the townsfolk rush to protect themselves against the outbreak.

Paul Anderson says the company’s investigating a raft of protection measures, including mandatory vaccinations.

However vaccination is not compulsory in New Zealand, meaning employers can’t force their staff to be immunised in accordance with the National Immunisation Schedule.

NZSki plans to get advice on what kind of options are available.

It’ll also look at keeping clearer records on who is and isn’t vaccinated.

“So, if this God forbid happens again, we can quickly be aware of which staff are protected and which staff need to be stood down,” Anderson tells Mountain Scene.

Since the first instructor tested positive last month, the company’s had a logistical nightmare working out how many staff have their MMR vaccination.

“It’s so difficult to know because people might ring their old surgery they went to as a child, and it’s all paper records or their Plunket books aren’t clear, so you can’t get the information quickly.”

On Sunday, the decision was made to stop unvaccinated staff from working at both Coronet Peak and The Remarks.

This should only impact on a handful of staff who can’t get their measles jab due to allergies, Anderson says.

He’s cautiously optimistic the worst is over thanks to Southern District Health Board’s quick action to vaccinate more than 500 employees over the past week.

“We erred on the side of caution, and if any staff weren’t sure or couldn’t provide documentary evidence, they got a measles shot.”

High demand for measles vaccine has also swamped staff at Queenstown Medical Centre.

More nurses have been rostered on to cope with fully-booked vaccination clinics and an influx in calls from concerned patients.

Practice nurse Sarah Dennis says they’re doing between 50 and 90 measles jabs a day, on top of their regular vaccination programme and GP appointments.

Last Thursday, 520 calls were made to the practice, almost double the daily average.

“Everyone has been going above and beyond in this crisis really,” Dennis says.

To make matters worse, there are issues with vaccine stock levels.

On Monday, the Ministry of Health halted vial orders to do a stock take.

Deliveries have since resumed to priority areas, including Queenstown and Central Otago.

However QMC won’t run clinics next week as it tries to manage stock and make sure there’s some left for priority patients.

“We are also trying to triage people who made a booking but might not need a vaccination to make sure we aren’t vaccinating unnecessarily,” Dennis says.

“A lot of people are phoning home or trying to find their Plunket books, and it’s been an eye-opener for the importance of maintaining a vaccination record.”

Schools across the district are on high alert.

Primary School have tested positive for measles.

On advice from SDHB, pupils and staff who’ve not had two MMR vaccines aren’t allowed at the school.

Principal Debbie Dickson says they’re operating on skeleton staff with 26 people away.

“This is mainly because they’ve only had one MMR … it’s not because they’re sick,” Dickson says.

The school’s cancelled its ski lessons for tomorrow.

“We’re doing everything we can to protect our community, students and staff.”

At this stage, there’ve been no confirmed cases at other schools.

People who are not sure if they have been immunised should contact their doctor or check their Well Child book.

Anyone developing symptoms is urged to stay at home and phone their doctor or Healthline 800 611116.

The SDHB will hold a free drop-in MMR vaccination clinic today at St John Frankton, Douglas Street, from 3.30-8pm. Conditions apply. More than 350 people attended this week’s clinics.

miranda.cook@scene.co.nz