As your child enters the preteen years, you know you're in store for a whole lot of changes. Between growth spurts, new schools, and the push for independence, shots may be the last thing on your mind. But this is when most kids will need their first meningitis vaccine.

Teens and young adults have higher odds of getting meningitis, so many schools now require the vaccine at some point in grades 7-12. Many colleges and the military do, too, since living in close quarters like dorms and barracks can also raise your chance of getting it.

Most people who get meningitis recover just fine, but it can be a life-threatening disease. It can also cause lifelong conditions like learning difficulties and hearing loss. The more serious kind of meningitis is caused by bacteria, and that's exactly what the vaccine covers.

Types of Vaccines

Vaccines can protect your child against five of the bacteria that cause meningitis, including the ones most common in the U.S. The types are called A, B, C, W, and Y.

For children and young adults, there are mainly two kinds of meningitis vaccines:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) to protect against types A, C, W, and Y
  • Meningococcal B vaccines (MenB) to prevent type B

 

Typical Schedule

Doctors strongly recommend one dose of a MenACWY vaccine for kids when they're 11 or 12 years old, then a booster at age 16. Some kids, including those with HIV, may need more doses. Check with your child's doctor. 

If your teen gets the first dose between ages 13 and 15, she'll need a booster between ages 16 and 18. If they get the first dose at age 16 or older, she won't need a booster. 

Your doctor may suggest a MenB vaccine for teens and young adults ages 16-23. The best time to get it is ages 16-18. They'll need two or three doses, depending on which brand your doctor uses.

Schedule for Children Who Are More Likely to Get Meningitis

Younger kids will need a vaccine if they're at a greater risk of getting meningitis because they:

  • Have complement component deficiency, a rare immune system disease
  • Have spleen damage or had their spleen removed
  • Live in an area that had a meningitis outbreak
  • Take drugs that affect their immune system
  • Travel to a country where meningitis is common

For these cases, doctors strongly recommend MenACWY for kids ages 2 months to 10 years. The number of doses and boosters your child needs depends on her health, age, and how long she stays at risk for the disease. For example, a child with spleen damage will be at risk longer than someone who travels for a week to a country where meningitis is common. Check with your doctor to find out what your child needs.

Doctors also recommend that kids ages 10 and older with these risks get the standard doses of MenB.

Schedule for Adults

Adults need the vaccines if they have a higher chance of getting meningitis. The risks are the same as those for kids, plus a few more:

  • Scientists who work with Neisseria meningitides, the bacteria that causes meningitis, need MenAWCY and MenB.
  • Those entering the military or who are first-year college students living in a dorm need MenAWCY.

There's another vaccine for adults called meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4). It's for those 56 and older who will likely only need one dose and:

  • Haven't had a MenACWY vaccine before
  • Live in an area that has a meningitis A, C, W, or Y outbreak
  • Travel somewhere where meningitis is common

People 56 and older who need more than one dose or already had a MenACWY shot can stick with the MenACWY vaccine.

Are There Times You Shouldn't Get the Vaccine?

Typically, you want to avoid getting it if you:

  • Are very sick. A mild cold is OK, but for anything more than that, it's better to hold off. 
  • Had a severe, life-threatening allergy to a meningitis vaccine or some part of it. Your doctor can tell you what's in the vaccine.
  • Had a severe reaction to the DTap vaccine or latex
  • Have Guillain-Barre syndrome. Ask your doctor if the vaccine is safe for you.
  • Have a latex allergy

May be pregnant or are breastfeeding. It's typically best to avoid the vaccine in this case, but if it's needed, your doctor can help weigh the pros and cons.

Does the Vaccine Have Risks?

With MenACWY, you may have redness or soreness where you get the shot. This typically goes away in a day or two. Some also get a mild fever. 

With MenB, you might see some of these symptoms for 3-7 days:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Pain in muscles of joints
  • Sore, red, or swollen where you get the shot
  • Stomach upset
  • Tiredness

It's rare, but you can have an allergic reaction to the vaccines. It's very serious and usually happens within a few hours of getting the shot. Look for:

  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Hard time breathing
  • Hives
  • Swelling in face and throat
  • Unusual behavior
  • Very high fever
  • Weakness

Call 911 if you see any of these symptoms. If you're not sure if something's normal, check with your doctor.

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