New Brunswick

'There is no shortage': New Brunswick secures 20,000 more doses of measles vaccine

New Brunswick's Department of Health received an additional 20,000 doses of the measles vaccine from the national repository Monday, as the Saint John region continues to deal with an outbreak of the highly contagious respiratory disease.

12 cases of highly contagious respiratory disease confirmed in Saint John health region

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, said Public Health nurses, lab staff and medical officers analyzing results have been working tirelessly to try to keep the outbreak in the Saint John health region contained. (CBC)

New Brunswick's Department of Health received an additional 20,000 doses of the measles vaccine from the national repository Monday, as the Saint John region continues to deal with an outbreak of the highly contagious respiratory disease.

"There is no shortage of vaccine in the province," chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said during a news conference in Fredericton Wednesday.

Public Health had been reserving its supply of the publicly-funded measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine for people in the Saint John region considered most at risk — those who have had direct contact with one of the 12 confirmed cases, and infants.

You can't always predict how things are going to go so you have to be cautious and you have to be judicious and prioritize.- Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health

The latest shipment is being distributed across the province, but health-care practitioners are still being told to give the vaccine only to prioritized individuals.

"We're just waiting to see if any more cases show up," said Russell.

More than 2,000 people in the Saint John health region have potentially been exposed to the virus that's transmitted through the air or by direct contact with an infected individual, Russell has said.

The incubation period of measles can be up to 18 days. The most recent case was announced on Saturday.

"You can't always predict how things are going to go so you have to be cautious and you have to be judicious and prioritize."

Normally, Public Health only gets about 5,000 doses of the MMR vaccine annually to immunize adults, said Russell.

But more than 13,500 doses of MMR have already been distributed since the measles outbreak began in April, she said.

"Some people had been ordering from public health and we had been holding onto those orders until we had a replenishment of our supply. So we're now releasing those orders that were already in the queue."

150 doses in Fredericton

The Guardian Ross Drug pharmacy in Fredericton, which serves as a sub-depot of the central serum depot in Saint John, usually has about 20 doses of MMR in stock for doctors and clinics, said pharmacist Guy Desaulniers.

On Wednesday, he was unpacking 150 doses.

"So we will be distributing them to the doctors who have been requesting them in the last couple of weeks," he said.

More than 13,000 doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine have been distributed since the measles outbreak in the Saint John health region began in April. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

In a memo to health-care practitioners on Tuesday — after the 20,000 additional doses were received — the province's deputy chief medical officer of health, Dr. Cristin Muecke, said the central depot is fulfilling orders for MMR in all regions in the sequence they were received.

But she asked the family doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses to prioritize the vaccine for certain groups, including:

  • "Susceptible individuals" potentially exposed to confirmed measles cases and "vulnerable populations" in the outbreak area, including infants between the ages of six months and one year.
  • Susceptible health-care workers, regardless of age, if they have received less than the recommended two doses.
  • Post-partum women susceptible to rubella (serologically negative) should be vaccinated with MMR before discharge, as per hospital policy.
  • Unimmunized individuals born between 1970 and 1995.

Those born in or after 1970 who are planning to travel to the United States or overseas can also get the vaccine through a travel clinic, but they'll have to pay for it, said Russell.

'Lots of people' concerned

She said she realizes there are "lots of people" across the province who are "concerned" and may want to get an MMR shot, but Public Health has to be vigilant.

"We need to stick to that priority list because we have to maintain the doses for those people who did come into contact with a known measles case."

The majority of those people know who they are because Public Health officials would have tracked them down, contacted them and offered them a protective dose of MMR if it was within 72 hours of exposure, she said.

Public Health has asked family doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses to prioritize the MMR vaccine for specific populations. (CBC)

The only exception are Vet's Taxi users who may have been exposed over several days last month. Public Health hasn't been able to track all of them down, she said.

Anyone who took one of the company's cabs during the following times may have come into contact with the virus:

  • May 22, from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
  • May 24, from 9:40 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  • May 25, from 2:45 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6:40 p.m. to 9:10 p.m.
  • May 26, from 12:50 p.m. to 3:05 p.m.

By the time their possible exposure was realized, it was too late for them to receive a protective dose of MMR because it was after the 72-hour window, said Russell.

In those cases, they would have been instructed to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms, she said.

Symptoms to watch for

The most recent confirmed case, at Hampton High School, is linked to Kennebecasis Valley High School, where nine of the previous cases are based. The other two are linked to exposure at the Saint John Regional Hospital's emergency department.

Measles symptoms may include fever, cough, runny nose, red or sore eyes, sleepiness, irritability and tiny white spots in the mouth.

About three to seven days after those symptoms start, the telltale red blotchy rash usually develops on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body.

People can be contagious for about four days before the rash appears.

Anyone exhibiting symptoms should self-isolate and call Tele-Care, the provincial health information line, for advice by dialling 811, officials have said.

People born before 1970 are considered immune to measles and anyone who has already had it is considered protected for life.

The outbreak won't be declared over until two incubation periods — roughly 40 days — pass since the last confirmed case.

With files from Catherine Harrop

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