The Meningitis Vaccines: What Parents Should Know

Medically Reviewed by Kumar Shital, DO on September 18, 2023
3 min read

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

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

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% of the survivors will have permanent side effects, such as hearing loss or brain damage.

The immunization can help prevent this serious disease.

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

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 11-12 and one booster dose at age 16. The doctor or nurse injects one dose into the muscle. 

The MenB vaccines are recommended for people 10 years or older who are at increased risk but can also be given to anyone 16-23 years old who needs protection. This should be based on a discussion between the patient and the doctor. Trumenba is administered in three doses while Bexsero requires two or three doses.

The CDC recommends a meningococcal vaccine for:

  • All children ages 11-18 or certain younger high-risk children (MenB is recommended for people ages 16-18 who are not high risk.)
  • 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

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

  • 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 if they are at increased risk but they should speak with their doctor regarding risks and benefits of the vaccine.

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.