HALIFAX – A vaccine is available for the most common strain of meningococcal meningitis, but it isn’t being offered in Nova Scotia.
On Tuesday, the province announced it will begin offering vaccinations against the A, C, Y and W strains of the disease starting in the fall. It previously had only been vaccinating against the C-strain.
However, the B-strain of the disease of the most common. Figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada show there were 111 cases involving the B-strain between 2007 and 2011. Of those cases, 12 were from Nova Scotia.
MORE: What vaccinations do provinces and territories offer? (external link)
The Public Health Agency of Canada reports 62 per cent of reported invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) in 2011 were a result of the B-strain. The same year, only two per cent of reported IMD cases were due to the C-strain.
The Canadian Pediatric Society said the mortality rate for children under the age of 19 years from the B-strain is between four and six percent. The estimate is based on data from 12 children’s hospitals from around the country, including the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
MORE: Read the Canadian Pediatric Society statement on the B-strain vaccine (external link)
So why doesn’t Nova Scotia offer vaccination against the B-strain in its current routine immunization schedule?
A vaccine for that specific strain was only approved in 2013, and no provinces or territories currently cover the cost of the vaccine, according to the Canadian Pediatric Society.
MORE: Report from National Advisory Committee on Immunization on the B-strain vaccine (external link)
Top health officials in the province said they are looking into it.
Nova Scotia Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Strang said several factors need to be taken into consideration before the province offers the vaccine.
“Is the disease important enough that we include those in our publicly funded program? And if so, how do we then go about making the case to get funding to do that?” he said.
“We’re actively in the process of looking at that and looking at how we can move that forward.”
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization makes recommendations about the use of vaccines in Canada, but it appears to be on the fence about whether the vaccine should be publicly offered across the country.
“Currently it is not recommended to include the multi-component meningococcal serogroup B vaccine in routine immunization programs for Canadian infants, children, adolescents and adults,” it said in statement.
Whether Nova Scotia will offer the vaccine is not yet known, but doctors said the disease is rare and can be prevented through means other than vaccination.