The short notice meningococcal vaccine roll-out in Northland will require lots of staff - possibly including the New Zealand Army.

Northland District Health Board chief executive Nick Chamberlain said the board had approached New Zealand Defence Force about medic teams helping with the ''logistical feat'' of giving the jabs at dozens of clinics.

A spokesperson later said it was unlikely NDHB would require the Defence Force but a full assessment of needs was under way.

With Northland cases of the menW strain reaching a Ministry of Health threshold signifying ''an outbreak'', on Monday the Government announced a free vaccine programme.


The region has had the highest number of cases of the menW strain per population in New Zealand, with seven of the country's 29 cases and three of the six deaths nationwide.

''The only affective way to manage this outbreak is with a vaccine programme,'' Chamberlain said yesterday.

He said the Government-approved vaccination programme would help avoid ''the dark days'' of a sweeping meningococcal outbreak in the 1990s which he witnessed as a doctor.

Staffing the vaccination clinics at dozens of Northland locations will require deploying school nurses and other health staff from their regular work for the three-week, seven days a week vaccination of 20,000 young children and teenagers.

It has been done before, Chamberlain said, referring to similar 2004/5 and 2011 campaigns.

With only 20,000 vaccine doses available, two age groups are being targeted — the high risk 9-month to under 5-year-olds and 13 to 19 year-olds, the latter identified as carrying and exchanging higher bacteria rates than other age groups.

That would put protection where it was most needed and have the greatest immediate impact on the disease's spread, NDHB paediatrician Ailsa Tuck said.

The NDHB is trying to procure another round of doses so the middle children's age group can be vaccinated early next year.


''We know there's going to be significant anxiety among parents of that group,'' Tuck said.

The biggest message is to be extra vigilant about children's sickness and seek medical attention early. MenW does not present with typical meningococcal symptoms but the patient becomes rapidly extremely ill.

Four of the Northland cases occurred in September and no link has been found between any of the seven local cases. Up to 20 per cent of the population can carry meningococcal bacterium in their throats or nasal passages without becoming ill, but can spread it.

Chamberlain defended the DHB against claims it did not act quickly enough. He said the initial two adult cases in May did not signify an outbreak in the community.

''The assertion we should have done something sooner is unfair.''

The board's microbiologist David Hammer had warned staff in at the time of those two cases, and told media yesterday his ''intuition'' was that cases would rise.

However, the disease's presence did not become a public health issue until reaching the MoH criteria of 10 cases per 100,000 people.

''We have to wait for outbreak status. But, absolutely, we want to immunise and, absolutely, we wish we could have started earlier,'' Chamberlain said.

The DHB will pay up front for the free campaign likely to cost between $1 and $2 million. The MoH will reimburse most of the cost.

Parents with children aged between five and 13, or others in the community who want immunisation now, can pay privately for a vaccine from their GP.

Meanwhile, should the army be called upon, it would not be the first time the two have worked together. Defence Force dental personnel worked with NDHB in 2014 on Exercise Wisdom Tooth, running dental clinics for high-need Far North residents.

The free vaccine clinics will be held in schools and community centres, with times and places advertised in the media and online forums from tonight.