A meningococcal vaccine will be rolled out in Northland to combat an outbreak that has seen the region hardest hit by a virulent new strain.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister of Health David Clark announced yesterday the seven cases, with three deaths among them, means the disease has reached ''sudden outbreak levels'' in Northland.
A free, three-week, seven day a week community vaccination programme will start next Wednesday, December 5, and run until Friday, December 21. The clinics will be at schools and community centres around Northland with the locations advertised widely.
Two age groups will be targeted in the vaccine programme — children from nine months to five years and teenagers from 13 to 20 years. To be eligible, the child will need to be a Northland resident.
''Following advice about the best use, research shows that vaccinating these two age groups is the best way to reduce the spread of meningococcal disease across the entire Northland community. This helps to protect everybody, even if they don't qualify for the free vaccination,'' Clark said.
There was no link between the cases, which were both Māori and Pākehā from a range of ages and areas of Northland.
"We are targeting those two population groups because research shows that vaccinating them will have the greatest impact on reducing meningococcal disease spreading in the entire community,'' Northland District Health Board chief executive Nick Chamberlain said.
The DHB now faces a ''huge logistical feat'' to get the target population vaccinated before the Christmas/New year holiday period.
The DHB and Ministry of Health (MoH) have had to dig deep for available supplies of the MenW vaccine globally to buy 20,000 doses.
Chamberlain said the DHB hoped to eventually procure enough of the vaccine for the rest of Northland's under-20 population.
Clark said the relatively new to New Zealand meningococcal W strain had a recognised high mortality rate.
"Pharmac and the Ministry of Health will continue to investigate the availability of further doses of the vaccine as a contingency, in case further rollout of the programme is recommended," he said.
The DHB came under fire earlier this month for not telling the public about the Northland cases for six months after the illness showed up. It only began warning the public to be alert for symptoms after the MoH announced it was in discussion with the Northland board following a disproportionately high number of local cases.
Dr Chamberlain, microbiologist David Hammer and paediatrician Roger Tuck will hold a media conference today about the Northland community vaccination programme.