Interior Health communications administrator Deborah Preston, left, and medical health officer Dr. Karin Goodison update the media earlier in December about outbreak of meningococcal disease in the Okanagan. Photo credit: Carmen Weld/Black Press

Renewed vaccination push for meningococcal disease outbreak

Looking to vaccinate 15-19 age group within Okanagan region

A renewed emphasis on the third phase of the meningococcal disease immunization campaign has been necessitated by the 12th confirmed case identified within the Interior Health region this year.

Dr. Trevor Corneil, vice-president population health and chief medical health officer for Interior Health, said the most recent case confirmation last week concerned a youth in the Thompson-Cariboo region.

“We’ve had 12 cases in total but five of those were close enough together with a certain age group and geography location within the Okanagan to call that an outbreak,” Corneil said.

The immunization campaign has targeted the Okanagan region from Enderby to Keremeos, specifically the 15-19 age group considered most vulnerable to the disease.

Corneil said the initial immunization response uptake was on a positive participatory trend prior to the Christmas vacation break at schools and has been much slower since.

According to the IH website, 12,260 people have been immunized which is 59.7 per cent of the target 15-19 age group.

Related: Meningococcal disease outbreak declared in Okanagan

“It’s unfortunate but not unexpected to see a drop-off over the holidays. With schools out, we are trying other ways to get the message out to this highest risk group for the disease to get immunized,” Corneil said.

“The first phase of the campaign was before the holidays, the second phase has been over the holidays and the this phase will start up in schools again Jan. 8. That is when we have the attention of the captive audience we are trying to reach.”

Corneil said how long the campaign will carry on, with a 75 to 95 per cent uptake vaccination target, will depend on new reported cases of the disease.

“This latest reported case is a bit of a setback but we are really going week to week on this. The six cases reported in the second half of (2017) have all been severe. One teenager has died and another has involved potential neurological damage.”

One of the cases involved a Kalamalka Secondary School Grade 11 student, who was sent to hospital in Vancouver in a medically induced coma three weeks ago.

Meningococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. This bacterium can cause serious and sometimes fatal diseases including meningitis (infection of the brain lining and spinal cord) and meningococcal septicaemia (infection of the blood).

People spread the meningococcal bacteria to others by sharing respiratory and throat secretions at close contact, generally from coughing or kissing.

Corneil said dealing with the meningococcal outbreak is an expensive public health initiative, from staffing and resources required to stage an immunization campaign to the cost of the vaccine itself, which is $150 per person with a target age group numbering 20,000.

“It’s expensive but absolutely worth it,” he noted. “It’s unfortunate to be in this position but Interior Health is doing everything we can, and we really want the public to help us, in getting kids immunized.”

Additional funding and other resource support is provided through the ministry of health and B.C. Disease Control Centre.

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