N.S. to expand meningitis vaccine program following teen's death
Nova Scotia's top doctor confirmed the province has been planning to expand its meningitis vaccine program, following the death of a Lower Sackville teenager this week.
Nova Scotia is currently the only Atlantic Province that doesn’t offer a routine childhood vaccine protecting against the rare type of meningitis that 16-year-old Rylee Sears died from.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Strang says a decision was made last year to offer a broader vaccine against meningitis, at an additional cost of about $160,000 per year.
Beginning in the next school year, Grade 7 students in Nova Scotia will receive the vaccine that protects against more strains of the meningococcal bacteria, including the one that took the life of 16 year old Rylee Sears.
Sears died on Monday in a Halifax hospital after contracting meningococcal meningitis.
“The vaccine certainly would have provided him with a significant level of protection,” Strang told reporters on Wednesday.
Currently, children in Nova Scotia are immunized against a single strain of meningitis.
“We've had in the last couple of years … a couple of cases of Y (strain), so our epidemiology is perhaps shifting a little bit, but also we've addressed some other higher vaccine priorities,” Strang said.
The new vaccine offered to students will protect against three more strains of the bacteria.
But even with these changes, the most prevalent strain of meningitis found in the province won’t be included in the vaccine.
A vaccine protecting against the meningococcal B strain became available in the past year, Strang said.
“That is the most common strain we’re seeing now, now that we’ve protected people (agains the C strain),” he said.
“We’re actively looking right now at what we do around bringing in the meningococcal B vaccine as well,” Strang said, adding that vaccine would be for infants.
Meningococcal meningitis is caused by bacteria that affects the lining around the brain and spinal cord.
It’s spread through direct contact, such as kissing, or sharing food, drinks or cigarettes.
Public health officials have identified a large group of people that came in close contact with Sears. In addition to antibiotics, 45 of them have been offered a vaccine.
“People who have been exposed to a case of meningitis have a higher than average risk of getting meningitis … over the next year,” said Dr. Robin Taylor, medical officer of health for Capital Health.
Rylee Sears’ parents said they want the province to do more to help keep children safe, and to save other families from suffering a devastating loss like theirs.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kelland Sundahl