The Ministry of Health reported on September 3 that there had been 975 confirmed cases of measles in New Zealand this year with 812 of these in the Auckland region.
The latest ESR public health surveillance report for measles said there were 159 new cases last week alone.
Consultant pharmacist and Pharmaceutical Society of NZ fellow Dr Natalie Gauld said more than 800 pharmacists are already registered to vaccinate against other diseases but not MMR (measles, mumps and rubella).
Pharmacist vaccinators can currently administer vaccines for influenza, Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough), meningitis and shingles, which all have exemptions to supply by pharmacists.
“Right now MMR is a prescription medicine which does not have an exemption for supply by pharmacists.”
“No one has applied for MMR to have this exemption as yet.”
Enabling pharmacists to vaccinate for measles is imperative in helping stop the outbreaks, Gauld said.
“It is important that we make these vaccines accessible to help increase the uptake and reduce the risk of spreading measles.
“Measles is a very concerning illness with many sufferers needing hospitalisation, so we want to minimise its spread through vaccination.”
Pharmacies are convenient, often open longer hours than medical centres and usually do not need an appointment.
There are a number of ways that pharmacists could start administering MMR vaccine including a standing order, Medical Officer of Health permission or reclassification, she said.
The logistics of supply of product through pharmacies needs to be worked out, but to make it more accessible is important, Gauld said.
Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand chief executive Richard Townley said it is urgent that the Ministry of Health amend the policies and regulations governing who can provide MMR vaccinations to include accredited pharmacist vaccinators and for Pharmac to fund this.
“There is a robust, proven set of procedures which pharmacist vaccinators follow when providing vaccinations to the public and they are trained the same as other health professionals to carry out vaccination services.”
National associate health spokesman Dr Shane Reti said allowing pharmacists to vaccinate against measles would help curtail the effects of the current outbreak.
“Up to a quarter of pharmacists in my local region of Northland are vaccination-qualified and in times of a serious outbreak such as this, we should be making use of that resource.
“DHBs have portable cold chain storage containers available for pharmacies that need more space to keep vaccines at the right temperature.
“There’s no reason not to allow pharmacists to administer measles vaccinations.”
Pharmacists are accessible for people who may be transient, not registered with a GP or otherwise face difficulties in accessing healthcare.
Ministry of Health director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay said there are a small number of pharmacists already delivering MMR vaccines but they are part of broader primary care teams.
“The Ministry of Health acknowledges the call for a larger role for pharmacists in tackling measles immunisation rates and closing our immunity gaps.
“The ministry is urgently exploring a number of options to improve uptake of MMR vaccine, particularly during this measles outbreak, and is already having discussions with pharmacists regarding their role in this.
“There are some issues that need to be worked through before MMR is available in community pharmacies such as funding, reimbursement, classification, and record keeping.”
After one dose of the MMR vaccine, about 95 per cent of people are protected from measles and after two doses, more than 99 per cent of people are protected.