New Vaccine for Meningitis Could Soon Be Available

2 min read

Oct. 26, 2023 – A new meningococcal vaccine that better protects against the rare but potentially deadly disease will soon be available. 

Vaccines are already available that protect against the forms of bacteria that can lead to meningitis, but full protection requires four or five shots typically given at various points from 11 to 18 years of age. The new “pentavalent” version protects against all five types of bacteria that cause most cases, and is completed in only two shots. 

Meningococcal disease is caused by various types of a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis that can be spread via saliva. Many people carry the bacteria in the back of their nose or throat without being ill, but sometimes it invades the body and can cause serious illness. 

Sickened people may have brain swelling called meningitis or bloodstream infections. In rare cases, people die within 24 hours or survive with long-term disabilities. Quick treatment can be life-saving, but the symptoms, like fever and a stiff neck, mimic flu or COVID-19 and sometimes result in less urgency for seeking medical attention. Even with timely antibiotic treatment, 10 to 15 out of 100 people die, and 1 in 5 survivors are disabled, according to the CDC.

The new vaccine, which is made by Pfizer and called Penbraya, was approved by the FDA last week. An independent advisory committee issued its recommendation to the CDC for the shot on Wednesday, CNN reported. It is approved for use in people ages 10 to 25 years old and protects against meningococcal groups A, B, C, W, and Y. The vaccine is a two-shot series, with the shots being given 6 months apart.

Reducing the number of needed shots could improve vaccine uptake. A presentation at the CDC advisory committee meeting Wednesday showed that only 30% of 17-year-olds are getting even a single vaccine dose, CNN reported.

The new vaccine was shown in clinical trials to increase immune response, but in its news release, Pfizer cautioned that vaccination with Penbraya may not protect all people from infection or invasive disease.