Following December 2022’s outbreak of meningitis B at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia is offering free vaccinations against the disease for those living in residence for the first time. But, eligibility is more limited than it seems at first glance.
Last year, two cases of the disease were discovered within Shirreff Hall, a residence at Dal. One of these cases resulted in the death of a first-year student from Ontario.
Kate Link-Horvath is a first-year student living in Shirreff this school year.
“It’s so scary,” said Link-Horvath.
When she heard about the outbreak from last winter, she immediately got the meningitis B vaccine.
This year, the province implemented a new policy offering free vaccines to a select group of students. The policy is specific for Nova Scotian students aged 25 and under, and are entering residence, or a large shared living space, for the first time.
The new eligibility is limited to students originally from Nova Scotia, with a Nova Scotia health card. Based on Dalhousie’s records, out of the approximate 21,000 students who enroll at Dal, only 14 per cent are from Nova Scotia.
The vaccine is also not covered by Ontario Public Health. This caused Link-Horvath, who lives outside of Kemptville, Ont. to spend hundreds of dollars to receive the vaccine before arriving at Dalhousie.
The student who passed away from meningitis B last year was also from Kemptville.
“What about the people who don’t live in dorms who come to Dal every day?” said Link-Horvath.
Dr. Cristin Muecke, Regional Medical Officer of Health, explains students living in residence for the first time are more likely to be exposed to different types of bacteria.
University dormitories are filled with students from various provinces and backgrounds with Shirreff housing up to 400 students
“Ultimately, we want to do the best we can with the resources we have to make sure that Nova Scotians are as healthy as they can be,” says Muecke.
Muecke explains how the determination of which groups receive eligibility for the free vaccine is based on a few different factors.
Different diseases can be more prevalent in distinct geographical areas. For example, Atlantic Canada sees more cases of meningococcal B disease than the other sub-strains.
“It just doesn’t make sense why it’s not open to everyone,” says Olivia Tinney, a first-year living in Shirreff Hall.
She questions how a health system that is universal can be so selective.
Tinney spoke about how people experiencing homelessness in Halifax tend to live in close contact with others and likely don’t have health insurance. She urges Heath Nova Scotia to open up the eligibility for more at-risk groups and students who study on Dalhousie campus every day.
Lack of Information
Both Tinney and Link-Horvath agree there has been a lack of information distributed from Dalhousie and the province.
Eligible Nova Scotian students can get the free vaccine at any time during their first year in residence. The vaccine is two doses and must be taken four weeks apart.
Dalhousie students who are not eligible, but have DSU Health Insurance, can receive their doses at the Student Health and Wellness Centre at a cost of $24.45 per dose.
Students who are sick are highly encouraged by Nova Scotia Health to stay home and avoid sharing drinks. If a student is feeling unusually unwell, they should seek care immediately.