HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government will vaccinate young people against a potentially deadly strain of meningitis that killed a Sackville high school student earlier this week.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief public health officer, said a quadrivalent meningitis vaccine that protects against four strains of the disease will be offered to Grade 7 students beginning in the fall. The vaccine protects against the A, C, Y and W strains of meningitis.
Rylee Sears, a Sackville High School student, passed away Monday from the Y-strain of meningococcal meningitis. Capital Health confirmed the case last week.
The disease is rare; there are typically between zero to three cases a year in Nova Scotia.
The province currently only vaccinates young people against the C-strain of meningitis — they receive the vaccine once at 12 months and again in Grade 7 — and does not currently offer the quadrivalent meningitis vaccine.
However, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends one dose of the quadrivalent meningitis vaccine that includes protection against the Y-strain that killed Sears.
Nova Scotia is the last province in the Maritimes to add the quadrivalent vaccine to its publicly funded immunization list. Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan already offer the more comprehensive vaccine.
Dr. Robin Taylor, the medical officer of health for Capital Health and the IWK, told Global News that meningitis can be preventable. She said it can be thwarted by abstaining from sharing water bottles, food and cigarettes.
She also said that although the disease is rare in the province, vaccination against a broader spectrum of strains would be advantageous.
“I think it would be useful to have that considered for future immunization schedules,” she said.
Dr. Joanne Langley, vaccine researcher at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology, said the current program reveals a disparity between Nova Scotia and other provinces and territories.
“As a physician and advocate for preventive health, I have to advocate for what I think is best for patients, which is to get all the vaccinations that are available to prevent disease that could occur in your community,” she said.
Strang said the quadrivalent meningitis vaccine, which will cost the province $160,000 a year, will not be given retroactively. Anybody in Grade 7 and above who is interested in receiving the quadrivalent meningitis vaccine will have to speak with his or her family doctor.
He said the province only recently decided to switch over from the current C-strain meningitis booster after its annual epidemiological review of the disease. The decision comes almost a decade after the quadrivalent meningitis vaccine became available.
“It’s not that it wasn’t important but when we look at our epidemiology of that and some other diseases, it wasn’t our top priority,” he said.
He added the decision did not stem from Sears’ death.
“In the last couple years, we’ve had a couple of cases of [of the Y-strain] so our epidemiology is perhaps shifting a little bit. Now we’re able to do this.”
Strang said there have only been four cases of the Y-strain of meningitis in the last 11 years, including Sears’. He adds that Sears’ is the only person to die from the disease since 2009.
The decision to move to the quadrivalent meningitis vaccine is contrary to what the government told Global News on Wednesday morning, when a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness said a switch was being considered but no decision had yet been made.
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