New Brunswick

New Brunswick rationing measles vaccine for at-risk people, infants

The measles outbreak in the Saint John area has many New Brunswickers scrambling to be vaccinated, only to be turned away by the provincial health-care system and some pharmacies.

People will not be able to receive dose from family doctor

There are 11 confirmed cases of measles in the Saint John area. (Submitted by Emmanuel Bilodeau)

The measles outbreak in the Saint John area has many New Brunswickers scrambling to be vaccinated, only to be turned away by the provincial health-care system and some pharmacies.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said in an outbreak situation doses of the measles, mumps, rubella and varicella, or MMRV, vaccine are reserved for those who have potentially been exposed — with exceptions for infants.

"During the outbreak, the people who are most at risk are the people who came into direct contact with somebody with measles and so that's why we reserved the doses of the vaccine for those individuals," Russell told CBC News.

The exceptions include the regularly scheduled vaccination program for 12-month-old and 18-month-old children. Babies between six and 12 months are also being vaccinated as a "protective measure," Russell said.

She said the vaccine supply in each province is secured "with a contract that explicitly says these doses can only be used for the outbreak management."

There are 11 confirmed cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease that's transmitted through the air or by direct contact with an infected individual.

At least 2,000 people have potentially been exposed to the virus either through nine cases at Kennebecasis Valley High School in Quispamsis or two others who visited the Saint John Regional Hospital's emergency department, officials have said.

No luck at pharmacies

Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association, said people are turning to pharmacies for the vaccine and coming up empty.

"Our members are getting calls from people all over the place," Blanchard said. "On average, in some places, Saint John for sure, five to eight to 10 calls an hour just asking if you have the vaccine."

He said most pharmacies are out of the "small inventory" they would normally have on hand, and doses are on back-order until the summer.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, said no vaccine is 100 per cent effective, meaning people who have received two doses of the MMRV vaccine could develop measles. (CBC)

Russell said she understands the public's concern and frustration, but she said statistics indicate the vaccine has a three per cent failure rate, meaning even people with two MMRV doses could still develop measles.

"That's why that extra dose we offer in an outbreak setting is so critical because you're covering off that three per cent of the individuals who had the misfortune of being one of those people who the vaccine wasn't 100 per cent effective," Russell said.

When will the rationing stop?

The stockpiling of doses will stop once the outbreak is declared over, and Russell said that can't be done until two incubation periods — roughly 40 days — pass since the last confirmed case.

The incubation period is between seven and 18 days.

The rationing of MMRV vaccine doses will cease when the measles outbreak is declared over. (The Canadian Press)

Russell said they are not worried the province will run out of vaccine.

Most people are protected from measles with two doses of the MMR vaccine.

Measles can be more severe in adults and infants. Complications can include ear infections, pneumonia, blindness and swelling of the brain, which can cause seizures, deafness, brain damage or death.

If contracted during pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, premature labour, and low birth weight.

People born before 1970 are considered immune.

With files from Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon and Rachel Cave