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The Meningitis Vaccines: What Parents Should Know

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Many colleges require students to get a meningococcal vaccine before moving into a dorm. Some summer camps also require it. And there's good reason.

Meningococcal disease can become life threatening quickly, and teens are at higher risk of getting it. It's a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in teens. Meningitis is a dangerous inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. The vaccine protects 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. As many as 20% will have permanent side effects, such as hearing loss or brain damage.

The immunization can help prevent this serious disease.

Which meningococcal vaccines are available?

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

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

Each of these vaccines can prevent four types of meningococcal disease, which make up about 70% of the cases in the U.S.

MCV4 is preferred for people age 55 and younger. The recommendation for teens is one dose at age 11 and one dose at age 16. 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.

MPSV4 is the only meningococcal vaccine approved for use in people over 55.

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

Who should not get a meningococcal vaccine?

Your preteen or teen shouldn't get the meningococcal vaccine if he or she:

  • Has had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to a meningococcal vaccine before or to any vaccine component
  • Is moderately or severely ill (reschedule when you are well)
  • Has ever had Guillain-Barre syndrome

Pregnant women can get the meningococcal vaccine, but it's only recommended for those with certain immune problems or those likely to be exposed to meningitis. With the newer MCV4 vaccines, there hasn't been as much study in pregnant women compared to the MPSV4 vaccine.

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