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Meningococcal Vaccine

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The more you know about your health, the better prepared you are to make informed healthcare decisions. Our health library gives you the information you need to take charge of your health.

What Is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease is caused by an infection that affects the meninges. The meninges is the protective membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. A bacterial infection of the meninges, called bacterial meningitis, can cause death within hours. This bacteria can also cause infections in the blood.

The disease is most common in:

  • Infants aged less than one year
  • People aged 16-21 years old
  • People with certain medical conditions
  • Community settings where large groups of people gather, such as college dorms or military bases

About 1,200 people in the US develop the disease each year. Approximately 10%-15% of these people die. Another 11%-19% lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have nervous system problems, or suffer seizures or strokes.

Symptoms of meningitis include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Very stiff, sore neck
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Sleepiness
  • Mental confusion

Symptoms in newborn and infants can be hard to notice. These may include:

  • Inactivity
  • Unexplained high fever or low body temperature
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Feeding poorly or refusing to eat
  • Tautness or bulging of soft spots between skull bones
  • Difficulty waking

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Corticosteroids
  • Fluid replacement

What Is the Meningococcal Vaccine?

There are two meningococcal vaccines available in the US:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4)—given as a shot into the muscle, preferred for people age 55 years or younger
  • Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4)—given as a shot under the skin, preferred for adults age 56 years or older

Both vaccines are made from parts of the meningococcal bacteria. They do not contain live bacteria.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

Routine Vaccination

The MCV4 vaccine is routinely given to children aged 11-12 years old with a booster dose given at age 16 years. It can also be given to children with high-risk conditions as early as two months of age.

Three doses are given to teens (11-18 years old) who have HIV:

  • Two doses given two months apart at 11 or 12 years old
  • Booster dose at age 16

Teens who receive the vaccine late follow this schedule:

  • If the first dose is given between 13-15 years old, the booster dose is given between 16-18 years old.
  • If the first dose is given after 16 years old, then the booster dose is not needed.

Vaccination for People at Increased Risk

The following groups of people need to be vaccinated because they have an increased risk of meningitis:

  • College freshmen who live in dorms
  • People who work in labs who may be exposed to meningococcal bacteria
  • Military personnel
  • People who travel to or live in areas where meningococcal disease is common
  • People who have problems with spleen functioning or do not have a spleen
  • People who have a weakened immune system
  • People who have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak

Young children aged 9-23 months and others who have certain conditions need to be given two doses in order to be fully protected.

People who are at high risk will need a booster dose every five years.

What Are the Risks Associated With the Meningococcal Vaccine?

The meningococcal vaccine, like all vaccines, has the potential to cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of the vaccine causing serious harm or death is extremely small.

Mild problems associated with the vaccine include redness or pain at the injection site or a fever.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

If you have the following conditions, you should not get the vaccine:

  • Have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine or its components
  • Are moderately or severely ill

The vaccines may be given to pregnant women. However, the MCV4 vaccine has not been extensively studied in pregnant women. It should be used only if it is clearly needed.

What Other Ways Can Meningococcal Disease Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

Preventive antibiotics may be given to people in close contact with an infected person, such as:

  • Healthcare workers
  • Family members

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

In the event of an outbreak, close contacts of infected people and people at increased risk should get the vaccine. Antibiotics may be recommended for people in close contact.

Revision Information

  • WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?

  • Immunization

    American Academy of Pediatrics

    http://www.cispimmunize.org

  • Vaccines & Immunizations

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    http://www.cdc.gov

  • Bacterial meningitis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated April 26, 2013. Accessed June 5, 2013.

  • Bacterial meningitis in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated May 1, 2013. Accessed June 5, 2013.

  • Deasy A, Read RC. Challenges for development of meningococcal vaccines in infants and children. Expert Rev Vaccines. 2011;10(3):335-343.

  • Honish L, Soskolne CL, et al. Modifiable risk factors for invasive meningococcal disease during an Edmonton, Alberta outbreak, 1999-2002. Can J Public Health. 2008;99(1):46-51.

  • Huttunen R, Heikkinen T, et al. Smoking and the outcome of infection. J Intern Med. 2011;269(3):258-269.

  • Immunization schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/index.html. Updated January 29, 2013. Accessed June 5, 2013.

  • Menactra. DailyMed website. Available at: http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/lookup.cfm?setid=4d8781ff-9366-462c-8161-6e958f44fcb4#section-17. Updated November 2011. Accessed June 5, 2013.

  • Meningitis. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.html. Updated March 15, 2012. Accessed June 5, 2013.

  • Meningococcal disease. DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://dermnetnz.org/bacterial/meningococcal-disease.html. Updated June 29, 2011. Accessed June 5, 2013.

  • Meningococcal disease. Immunization Saves Lives website. Available at: http://www.vaccineinformation.org/meningococcal. Updated May 29, 2013. Accessed June 5, 2013.

  • Meningococcal vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/mening/default.htm. Updated February 7, 2013. Accessed June 5, 2013.

  • Meningococcal vaccines: What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/mening.html. Updated October 14, 2011. Accessed June 5, 2013.

  • 10/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for revaccination of persons at prolonged increased risk for meningococcal disease. MMWR. 2009;58(37):1042-1043. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5837a4.htm. Published September 25, 2009. Accessed October 2, 2009.

  • 12/16/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for use of quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY-D) among children aged 9 through 23 months at increased risk for invasive meningococcal disease. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60(40):1391-1392.

  • 2/10/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Akinsanya-Beysolow I, Immunization Services Division, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0 through 18 years—United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014 Feb 7;63(5):108-109.