The Meningitis Vaccines: What Parents Should Know

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. Two meningitis vaccines protects against four types of meningococcal disease. An additional type of vaccine protects against serotype B, which also causes meningitis.

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., three meningococcal vaccines are available:

  • Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4), sold as Menomune
  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4), sold as Menactra, MenHibrix, and Menveo.
  • Serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, sold as Trumenba and Bexsero.

MPSV4 and MCV4 can prevent four types of meningococcal disease, which make up about 70% of the cases in the U.S.

The MenB vaccines prevent the Meningococcal B strain.

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.

The MenB vaccines are recommended for ages 10-24, by the CDC for high risk patients, but can also be used in older adults. Trumenda is administered in three doses while Bexseero requires two doses.

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

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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 and MenB vaccines, there hasn't been as much study in pregnant women compared to the MPSV4 vaccine.

What are the side effects of meningococcal vaccines?

Mild side effects happen in about half those who get the vaccine. They may include redness or pain where the skin was injected. These side effects last no longer than 1 or 2 days.

Serious side effects are rare and can include high fever, weakness, and changes in behavior.

Severe allergic reactions may happen within minutes or hours of having the vaccination. These are signs of an allergic reaction:

If these signs appear, your child should get to a doctor right away, describe the reaction, and report it by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form. The doctor or health department can help with this.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a serious nervous system disorder that has shown up in some people who have received MCV4. It is so rare that doctors are not sure that there is a clear link to the vaccine.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on August 11, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Pediatrics, published online Feb. 1, 2011.

National Meningitis Association: "About Meningococcal Disease."

CDC: "Meningococcal Vaccines: What You Need to Know," "Meningococcal Vaccination."

National Network for Immunization Information: "Important Facts for Parents to Know About the Meningococcal Vaccine." 

National Network for Immunization Information: "Vaccine Information: Meningococcal Disease," "Frequently Asked Questions about the Meningococcal Vaccine."

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