Whangārei MP Dr Shane Reti says the Northland District Health Board's response to Northland's meningococcal W-strain outbreak was anything but "fast".

When the decision was finally made to run a vaccination programme three weeks after an ''outbreak'' had been declared, it was made over a lunchtime teleconference call, he said.

Reti has obtained a report showing the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) wasn't convened until three weeks after outbreak status was reached in mid-October.

He is now calling for Minister of Health Dr David Clark to outline the timeline of events since the first MenW cases showed up back in May.


"The minutes of the Technical Advisory Group, obtained by National, suggest that an outbreak was technically reached around October 14 but the group was not convened until three weeks later, on November 8.

"This delay completely contradicts the Minister's repeated assurances that the response was 'swift' – there is nothing swift about it,'' Reti said.

"What's worse is that after the three-week delay in convening the group to confirm the outbreak and trigger the response, the meeting itself was carried out by a teleconference which took just an hour over a lunchtime.

"The Minister needs to come clean on the three-week delay to convene this advisory group. This has been a late and delayed response from the start, given the seven warning flags from May this year.''

Northland Medical Officer of Health Dr Jose Ortega Benito and the DHB's microbiologist Dr David Hammer took part in the teleconference with MoH officials, advisers, Pharmac and ESR representatives.

Minutes state the TAG noted that the rise in cases of group W meningococcal disease was highest in Northland in 2018 (as of November 5, at 3.9 per 100,000 population compared with the national rate of 0.5 per 100,000).

Based on the disease rates in the population under 10 years of age (12.3 per 100,000) in the 14-week period starting July 15, the TAG agreed there was a ''community outbreak'' of group W meningococcal disease in Northland.

It recommended ''vaccination is the most appropriate and effective response to a community outbreak''.


It was decided at that conference the priority target groups should be based on age rather than ethnicity or geographical location.

While the two age groups — 9 months to under-5 and 14 to under 20-years were decided on, the report also said ''possibly all others under 20 years of age''.

Reti said it is ''staggering'' the group did not act earlier to first confirm the outbreak and then get on with the response – ''especially considering all it took was a phone call''.

Reti said the three weeks in which nothing happened could have been the time for rolling out the immunisation campaign at schools and vaccinating all children while they were still accessible.

''Instead, the vaccination programme was stalled and children have missed their vaccinations as a result.''

Northland DHB is pleased with the reach of the programme so far, with about 50 per cent of eligible children and teens vaccinated at the halfway point before Christmas.

Chief executive Nick Chamberlain has countered suggestions the roll-out came late, and the public should have been warned MenW was around and rising.

In mid-December, a week after the free vaccination came on stream, Chamberlain said the DHB wanted to start the campaign straight after the first two adult cases of meningococcal W, in May.

''We have been working closely with the Ministry of Health for over six months to be prepared for when we reached outbreak status to allow us to commence this campaign.''

However, the DHB was aware the ministry needed to track the disease and wait until it reached outbreak status to justify a vaccination campaign, he said.

Chamberlain said the disease can mimic a very wide range of conditions, including arthritis, pneumonia, cellulitis, throat infections and gastrointestinal illnesses, that it strikes rapidly and randomly, and has a high fatality rate.

''There is no concise public health message to warn Northlanders, and the only answer is to ensure our high-risk population is immune and protected.''