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Source: New Zealand Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education have signed a memorandum of understanding, so they can work together to help prevent the spread of measles in schools.

There have been more than 1800 cases of measles in New Zealand since the start of 2019 and most of these cases have been in unvaccinated people, or in those who do not know their vaccination status.

The memorandum of understanding will allow information on schools’ overall vaccination rates – the number and percentage of students in schools who are fully vaccinated against measles – to be calculated by the Ministry of Health using the National Immunisation Register and shared with local public health officers. This will give them a better understanding of schools’ overall rates of immunity against measles. 

If a school or schools are directly affected by the outbreak, for example if a student has contracted measles, the agreement will also allow for information on individual students vaccination status to be provided to local public health officers. This information by individual student will only be shared as requested by public health officers, and will be used to help reduce the spread of measles in schools. 

“Our top priority is to stop this measles outbreak and protect our most vulnerable. Effectively containing the spread of measles requires information and planning, including understanding of potential sources of infection, says the Ministry of Health’s Director of Public Health, Dr Caroline McElnay. 

“Measles is highly infectious and can result in serious complications. Places where people gather together, such as schools are key places for the disease to spread.

“Knowing school’s vaccination rates can help schools and public health officials take appropriate action to slow or stop the spread of measles from child to child at school, who can transfer the disease back to their family and community,” says Dr Caroline McElnay. 

Katrina Casey, Deputy Secretary, Sector Enablement and Support, at the Ministry of Education says “the Ministry of Education has worked with the Ministry of Health to agree a joint approach aimed at reducing the spread of measles. A lot of work is being done by public health agencies to raise awareness of measles and how to limit its spread, and we want to support this initiative. We think the information sharing provision in the memorandum of understanding will help to better inform responses to measles outbreaks.

“We continue to encourage any parent or caregiver with concerns about the health and wellbeing of their child to speak with their school or early learning service. For specific information about measles, parents should also phone their GP for medical advice, including clarification of immunisation status.

“Should there be any confirmed cases of measles in a school or early learning service, we will support them to act on the advice of the public health unit and the Medical Officer of Health,” says Katrina Casey. 

The memorandum of understanding complies with the Privacy Act 1993 and will remain in place until the outbreak is over. 

MIL OSI