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A portrait of Kai Matthews, who died suddenly from meningitis B while attending Acadia University in 2021.DARREN CALABRESE/The Globe and Mail

Nova Scotia will fund the meningococcal B vaccine for young people entering university and living in residence, after coming under fire last winter for its lack of education and awareness about the disease, which has killed three students in the province in less than two years.

“We’ve looked at the emerging evidence,” Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer Robert Strang told reporters Thursday. “We now have it on substantive and sufficient evidence that this group in these very particular settings are at increased risk. … We’re hopeful other provinces will make similar decisions.”

Nova Scotia becomes the second province to fund the vaccine after PEI last month expanded its Men-B vaccine program to include students attending university and staying in residence, acknowledging the higher risk of young adults living together in close quarters.

Dr. Strang said medical evidence shows that people coming into congregate settings such as dormitories or military barracks for the first time are more at risk of contracting the rare but potentially lethal disease. People can carry the bacteria that causes the disease in their nose and throat without ever showing symptoms or developing the illness.

Despite the deaths of three university students from the disease, Dr. Strang said the incidence rate of Men B in Nova Scotia is not above average.

In November, 2022, a Saint Mary’s University student died of a case of Men B. (It’s unknown whether that student was living in residence.)

A month later, there was an outbreak at Dalhousie University. Eighteen-year-old Maria Gaynor, a first-year kinesiology student from Kemptville, Ont., was found dead in her dormitory.

Kai Matthews, a 19-year-old Acadia University student, from Tantallon, N.S., died of the disease in June, 2021 – six years after an outbreak at the school left one young woman dead.

Norrie Matthews has led an information campaign and started the B for Kai foundation after his son Kai’s death to pay for Acadia students who want the Health Canada-approved vaccine. He said Thursday’s announcement was a great first step, which aligns with the World Health Organization’s mission to defeat meningitis by 2030.

Nova Scotia ends public health orders for COVID-19, including mandatory vaccinations

Now, he wants to see the vaccine coverage expanded in other provinces, and to other high-risk age groups, such as infants. A 2022 Health Canada review found that meningococcal B accounted for the greatest proportion of the disease in babies under the age of 1.

“People need to be aware,” Mr. Matthews said. “We need to look at it with a broader lens at other age groups that are at high risk for meningococcal disease and Men B.”

Nova Scotians aged 25 and under who are starting university and living in residence for the first time are eligible for the free vaccine. First-time military recruits living in barracks are also eligible. Booking opens online May 29 with appointments starting June 5 so that students can be fully protected with two doses by September.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the external advisory body that provides independent advice to governments on the use of vaccines, does not consider university students entering residence for the first time to be at high risk for Men B.

In a statement from Health Canada on behalf of the advisory body, spokesman Mark Johnson said: “NACI is constantly reviewing all of the available data and will update its guidance in light of the evolving evidence and the latest science in the Canadian public health context.”

However, Australia and New Zealand do recommend the vaccine to teenagers and young adults.