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The Meningitis Vaccines: What Parents Should Know

Many colleges require that students get a meninogococcal vaccine before moving into a dorm. Some summer camps also require or recommend the vaccine. Why?

Meningococcal disease is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in teens. Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord that usually results from viruses or bacteria. Not all types of meningitis can be prevented with vaccines. Fortunately, immunization does protect against four types of meningococcal disease.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, to children and teens. Learn more.

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Why do teens need a meningococcal vaccine?

Of the 1,000- 2,600 people who get meningococcal disease each year, one-third are teens and young adults. Ten percent to 15% of those who get sick with the disease will die, even with antibiotic treatment. Up to 20% will have permanent side effects, such as hearing loss or brain damage. This is why immunization against meningococcal disease so important. It can help prevent this serious disease.

Which meningococcal vaccines are available?

In the U.S., three meningococcal vaccines are available:

  • Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4), sold as Menomune
  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4), sold as Menactra and Menveo

These meningitis vaccines can prevent four types of meningococcal disease, which represents about 70% of the cases in the U.S.

Menactra is the preferred vaccine for people age 9 months to 55 years old and Menveo is approved for those 2 to 55 years old. That's because they provide more lasting protection and decrease carrier rates of meningococcal bacteria, which may help prevent its spread. The doctor or nurse injects one dose into the muscle. If MCV4 is not available, you can use MPSV4. The doctor or nurse injects one dose beneath the skin. Menomune is the only meningococcal vaccine licensed for use in people over 55.

Either vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines. The current recommendation for teens is one dose at age 11 and one does at age 16.

Who needs a meningococcal vaccine?

The CDC recommends a meningococcal vaccine for:

  • All children ages 11-18 or certain younger high-risk children
  • Anyone who has been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak
  • Anyone traveling to or living where meningitis is common, such as in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Military recruits
  • People with certain immune system disorders or a damaged or missing spleen

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the first dose of vaccine be given at age 11 or 12 and then a second dose, the booster, should be given between age 16 to 18.   


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