Global measles surge prompts calls for vaccinations - read Dan Hawke's measles story
COVID has hogged the health headlines for a couple of years, so it’s easy to forget there are still other infectious diseases out there.
In April, the World Health Organisation and an UNICEF reported worldwide measles cases increased by 79% in the first two months of 2022. Conditions are ripe for serious outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses, they said.
Nelson resident and teacher Dan Hawke remembers the last outbreak of measles in New Zealand.
In those pre-COVID days, he wasn’t too worried when told a couple of his students contracted the highly contagious disease. A few days later, he started his isolation.
“We got a heads up at work and we didn't really think too much of it,” he says.
“It was just one of those things. Then, lo and behold, my entire work got shut down for two weeks.”
With no subsidies or assistance available back then, four staff and 17 students were affected by the closure.
“We just had to shut.”
On his birthday, Dan started his isolation.
“I rolled off to a hotel by myself for the night and at the time I was like. I've got nothing. This is kind of pointless.
“Then I woke up and I felt like, oh, I've got a little bit of cold, it’s just a cold... The next day I had the complete full body aches and was miserable.”
Yet still, Dan’s “ride it out, Kiwi-bloke mentality” was telling him there was nothing to worry about.
“The day after that I broke out in a rash - complete, end-to-end covered in spots, and it wasn't until then that I believed that I had at all. Suddenly I can see what all the fuss is about. This is not that pleasant. It felt grotty from start to finish.”
The bad news wasn’t over. Dan’s wife Kirsty was eight months pregnant. Because measles is so contagious, they couldn’t risk her – or the baby - being exposed to the virus. The couple had to separate.
"That was hard for us because we're in Nelson with no family. But she managed to find a work colleague who was very kind and very generous. She went and lived there, eight months pregnant.
“Eventually I went home and did the rest of my isolation, with people dropping food on the doorstep and jigsaw puzzles.”
Dan says the situation was incredibly worrying for the whole whānau.
"None of us had any experience with this kind of thing, and it was bizarre. I had no idea of the extent of things that had to be done.
“The big issue was if she went into labour. So the birthing unit at Nelson hospital had to be informed. They put a special plan in place in case she caught the disease.”
And there were complications, but fortunately the measles plan wasn’t needed.
“The birth wasn't smooth, and our daughter faced a few complications and ended up in the SCID unit. If either caught the measles it could have been catastrophic. They did a great job, the birthing unit, to come up with a plan.
“There was no doubt it was scary, but we were so thankful to them.”
Trust in the science
Looking back on it all, Dan says he has great faith in the science behind vaccinations, especially as COVID-19 and its variants sweep around the world.
“I trust in the people who recommend that these things are good to do. It's good science, and this is how we look after ourselves and how we look after the rest of our society.
"All the spotlight is on COVID and how that is new and how that's affecting our lives, but it’s important not to turn our back or forget about these other infectious diseases.
“The science has worked for years and years. That is how to protect us and stop the spread of these things, which can cause great impact on people and their families and society.
"I'm happy to have been able to walk away from it unscathed, and it's a crazy story to be able to tell, but it could have been so much worse. Absolutely it could have been worse.”
A clinical perspective: Be prepared
Nelson Marlborough measles campaign co-ordinator Andrea Staufer said it was important for people - especially younger people - to be prepared, and get immunised if necessary.
“It’s really important to increase your protection now, before this measles outbreak arrives in New Zealand.”
“Check with your doctor or your parents to see if you had two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination as a child. If not, get the MMR vaccination – it's free.”
Currently vaccination clinics are running in Richmond at 281 Queen Street every Saturday from 9.30am to 12.30pm.
Where to find out if you need vaccination:
Ask your doctor, parents or caregiver or check your Plunket book for a written record to see if you had two doses of MMR as a child. If you didn’t, or aren’t sure, get the MMR vaccination, it’s free. There are no safety concerns with having additional doses of the MMR vaccine if you are unsure.
Where to get your vaccination:
MMR vaccinations are free from your GP, most pharmacies and Covid Immunisation clinics.
Saturday Immunisation clinics run from 9.30-12.30pm at 281 Queen Street, Richmond, every Saturday.
For more information, please talk to your practice nurse, pharmacist or other medical professional or Measles Campaign Coordinator (Andrea Staufer 0272460938) or visit the below websites
Measles | Ministry of Health NZ
Measles | Immunisation Advisory Centre (immune.org.nz)
Measles and young people: Are you immunised? - Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand - Nelson Marlborough (nmdhb.govt.nz)