The army could be called in to help Northland District Health Board run dozens of meningococcal vaccine clinics.

The Government announced yesterday a free Northland vaccine programme as the region had the highest number of cases of the MenW strain per population; reaching a Ministry of Health epidemiology threshold that signified ''an outbreak''.

''The only affective way to manage this outbreak is with a vaccine programme,'' the board's chief executive Nick Chamberlain said.

The New Zealand Defence Force had been approached in case medical teams were needed to help with the ''logistical feat'' of running a region-wide vaccination programme at short notice over three weeks before Christmas, Chamberlain said at a media briefing today.


Defence Force dental personnel and back up teams worked with NDHB in 2014 on Exercise Wisdom Tooth, running dental clinics for 750 high-need Far North residents.

Staffing the vaccination clinics at dozens of Northland locations will also see school nurses and other health staff diverted from their regular work for the seven day a week programme to have 20,000 young children and teenagers vaccinated.

With only 20,000 vaccine doses available due to a worldwide shortage, two age groups will be targeted — the high-risk 9-month to under 5-year-olds and 13 to 19-year-olds.

Those two groups are the vulnerable, very young who can not always articulate symptoms of illness and the higher rate of bacteria carrying - and exchanging - teens.

Immunising those two would bring 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 also be vaccinated early next year.

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

The important health 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.

Clinical microbiologist Dr David Hammer said up to 20 per cent of the population can carry the disease without getting sick.

Hand washing and other common hygiene practises helped prevent its spread, but the only way to prevent the disease taking hold in the community was widespread vaccination.

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