Looking down at her late son’s graduation cap, Janet Munro reflected on the last few years of studying, raising awareness and fighting for a new vaccine for meningitis in B.C.
On April 25, her hard work paid off.
The B.C. Ministry of Health recently announced a vaccine for Grade 9 students to protect them against four strains of meningitis bacteria instead of just one. The vaccine is known as the MCV4, which protects against the A, C, W-135 and Y strains. Medical Director for immunization programs at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, Monika Naus told the PNR this is something they’ve been discussing for a few years. For the longest time, the only vaccine in the province was the Group C, which has been part of the routine immunization program since 2003.
“As a result, we’ve not had a Group C case in British Columbia in a young person since 2008,” said Naus, adding they’ve even rediced it in older individuals.
Naus said there have been cases of the Y strain in B.C., the more serious ones resulting in death.
“Our sort of peak of that was really back in 2011/2012,” she explained. “We did have deaths, one in each of those years in university age students. Those were tragic cases and we have been looking at bringing this vaccine in since that time, recognizing that it’s a very rare disease.”
“But sometimes when young people get infected, they actually die from Group Y disease,” she said.
Munro’s son, Bradley died in 2011 from the meningitis Y strain. Ever since his death, his mother, the founder of meningitusbc.org, has been working hard to create awareness on meningitis.
“My son and four other B.C. kids died from the Y strain in the year 2011/2012,” she said.
After fighting for the four strain vaccine and continuing to further her research over the past four years, April 25 was a good day for Munro, marking a real improvement in meningitis prevention in the province.
“(April 25) was the brightest, sunniest day and it was like an explosion with our kids’ memories and feeling their energy. The skies opened up and finally, our children are being honoured. They’re not sacrificial lambs anymore, they’re being honoured …”
“Providing the quadrivalent booster in Grade 9 gives adolescents the best protection as they enter the peak years outside of infancy for contracting meningococcal disease, which are between 15 and 24 years of age,” said Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s provincial health officer.
Meningococcal bacteria can cause meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain, and septicemia, an infection of the blood.
Munro has sent information to graduating students in School District 63 (Saanich), in hopes that parents will think about protecting children from the five most common strains of meningitis. Shots are available for the multicomponent meningococcal B and the MCV4 (A, C, W-135 and Y) strains.
Munro’s son was vaccinated in 2005 and graduated from high school in ‘06. Yet he was only vaccinated against one strain, Men- C.
“I didn’t know that there were more than one strain. I thought it was one shot and he was good,” she said.
With the four strain vaccine announced this week, implementation will take place in September. On average, Naus said there are around five cases a year, with half of the cases being in individuals from ages 15 to 24 and the other half being middle age.
Naus said individuals get the infection from what’s called respiratory secretion, which means that some individuals carry it in their throats for brief periods of time and contract it from kissing, sharing utensils, etc. She added the occasional person will become infected and will go on to develop the disease while others won’t.
“The interesting thing about these vaccines is they actually reduce the carriage of the organism in the throat … there are good studies to show that the peak for carriage of these is in late adolescence,” she said, adding that is a time when people are extensively engaged with their social network.
Bradley Munro died at age 23 while at university. Since his death, his mom has been doing everything she can to make people aware of the vaccines and for parents and students to make an informed decision to get vaccinated. By spreading awareness, it helps Munro to talk about her son.
“This is a way of honouring him, because we loved him so much and if we had known, he would have been vaccinated.”
Bradley had flu-like symptoms before his death: fever; headache; vomiting. But the family didn’t know it was meningitis.
“I tried phoning him on the Wednesday … I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t get a hold of him,” said Munro. “When we got to Kamloops, we just couldn’t believe it.”
Munro has been working to not only study the deadly disease, but also to try and come to an understanding of why the MCV4 hadn’t been implemented in the B.C. Public Immunization Program when it was done so in eight other provinces and territories.
On April 25, Munro and Coquitlam MLA Linda Reimer announced a proclamation before the B.C. Legislature to recognize April 24 as World Meningitis Day in Victoria.
The first dose of the Men- B strain will be available May 6 with the second given on June 10. The clinic for the MCV4 that Munro is offering is on May 18 at the Saanich Fairgrounds. For more information on the price and the vaccines, students and their parents are encouraged to visit her website at meningitisbc.org.