Death of six-year-old girl who died from meningitis brings ‘growing concern’ among local officials about population’s susceptibility to deadly disease
Toronto ramps up vaccine efforts aimed at young kids, after province refuses to make COVID-19 shot mandatory
Officials in Toronto have stepped up efforts to vaccinate children against meningitis, as the City of Canada’s largest metropolis grapples with a growing epidemic of the deadly disease.
In the wake of Sunday’s death of a six-year-old girl, whose throat swelled up so badly that she needed surgery to remove a large part of her skull, Toronto city health officials are now running more than 500 meningitis vaccination clinics across the city, with additional sites added to tackle the peak times of the year – the month of March and October.
Meningitis, also known as bacterial meningitis, is an infection of the meninges – the thick membrane that lines the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include headaches, fever, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sensitivity to cold and flu-like temperatures. Death usually occurs within 24 to 48 hours.
The City of Toronto closed all its hospitals and all its nursing stations on Sunday evening after news broke that a local boy was also battling the disease, at a hospital near his home, a few kilometres from Sunday’s fatal case. The boy is now stable.
Mayor John Tory called the outbreak one of the worst meningitis cases Toronto has seen in the past 25 years.
“This has really shaken up the people in this city and the city’s health teams as well,” Tory said at a Monday morning press conference, “and we’re going to do what we can to ensure that it doesn’t spread further.”
Experts have identified the families of at least eight of the city’s cases – which have all resulted in patient deaths – in Toronto and nearby areas, but a city spokesperson declined to name any of the affected families.
Toronto City Council unanimously calls for mandatory vaccine for children Read more
Ontario’s health minister, Christine Elliott, announced last week that the province was not planning to make the meningitis vaccine – COVID-19 – mandatory for children until at least 2023. This move has been condemned by health officials across Canada, who argue that the time is right to mandate the vaccine.
The disease is rare, occurring about once every five years in Canada. In Ontario, it has already infected at least 45 people this year.
Canada has become “ground zero” for meningitis cases, the CEO of Toronto’s public health unit, Dr Neil Stone, told Canada’s National Post.
“Almost universally, the people infected and the people who have died are of age 12 to 24,” he said. “It’s devastating to families, it’s devastating to communities, it’s devastating to the public health system.”