Nova Scotia’s top doctor has begun working with post-secondary institutions in the province to try and prevent future meningitis B outbreaks in university residences.
Chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang made the announcement during the legislature’s health committee meeting on Thursday when asked about mandatory vaccinations.
“We will work together to increase awareness of who is actually at an increased risk, the availability of a vaccine and also when the appropriate timing of when that vaccine will be,” Strang said.
In December, Nova Scotia Public Health declared an outbreak of the disease in a Dalhousie University residence that resulted in the death of one student and the hospitalization of another.
In the past 19 months, two other students have died from the disease in other universities in the province, leading to complaints from loved ones about safety precautions at the schools and public health.
Meningitis B transmits through contact with bodily fluids, and spreads more quickly when people share a living environment or are in close contact, making university dorms and classrooms high risk locations for transmission, according to Nova Scotia Health.
Currently, the meningitis B vaccine is not part of the routine publicly funded vaccine program in Nova Scotia but is available to those who may have come in close contact or are considered at risk.
Strang said the province relies on guidance from the National Advisory Committee of Immunization (NACI) regarding public vaccinations. Currently, NACI does not recommend offering the vaccine to the general public as there is limited evidence of its effectiveness.
“It is a rare disease and it can have fatal consequences,” Strang said.
For meningitis B, “it is a different type of vaccine, there are many different sub-strains and not all of them are protected by the vaccine.”
Strang said due to its many variants, getting the meningitis B vaccine cannot ensure an individual will stay clear of the specific strain of the disease that may be spreading at that time.
In order to combat the virus, Strang said public health must create a focused and targeted program with the universities that can help prevent the virus and lessen the financial barriers that come with its vaccine.
A full two-dose vaccination for meningitis B in Nova Scotia costs about $300.
During Thursday’s proceedings, Halifax Atlantic MLA Brendan Maguire questioned the province’s guidance under NACI regarding public vaccinations.
Maguire asked why the province does not take NACI’s recommendations to fund separate vaccinations such as shingles or the flu vaccine for seniors, but does choose to take NACI’s advice against general public vaccinations for meningitis B.
“Proposals have been developed for the two other vaccines you have mentioned and they are certainly continuing to be considered along with a whole range of others,” Strang said.
“It will be students who will be coming into university, first year, potentially only those living in residence, that is who we would need to focus on and how we would work with that group. Those conversations will be ongoing.”
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