The meningococcal vaccine protects against the meningococcal bacteria which can cause serious infections such as meningitis (pronounced men-in-ji-tis), a brain fluid infection, and blood stream infections. Although meningococcal infections are rare, they are very serious diseases that can cause death. Luckily, there is a vaccine to protect you against many of the meningococcal infections.
How does the vaccine work?
The vaccine is made up of parts of the meningococcal bacteria that cannot cause infection. When you get the vaccine, your body makes antibodies to fight the meningococcus bacteria. These antibodies then help protect your body from infection if you come in contact with someone who has meningococcal disease. The vaccine can help prevent 4 different types of meningococcal disease.
Who should get the meningococcal vaccine?
If you are between 11-12 years old, your health care provider will recommend that you get the MCV4 vaccine when you have your checkup. If you are older than 12 and haven’t gotten it yet, your health care provider will suggest getting it and again before you go to high school or before you go to college or into the military service.
Other people who should get vaccinated are those who plan to travel to places where meningococcal disease is common (such as certain regions of Africa), people who may have come in contact with meningitis, anyone who has a disorder of their immune system, anyone whose spleen has been damaged or had surgery to remove it, and anyone who studies this disease in a lab.
Will I need to get a booster shot?
If you’ve had your second meningococcal vaccine at your 11 or 12 year check-up, it is recommended that you have a booster vaccine sometime between the ages of 16-18. If you receive your first dose of the meningococcal vaccine at 16 or older, you don’t need a booster shot. Teens who are at high risk for meningitis should receive a booster shot every 5 years. College freshman living in dormitories who received the MPSV4 (another type of meningococcal vaccine) 5 or more years ago should receive a dose of MCV4.
If you have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with meningococcal disease, it’s important to tell your health care provider. Ask if you had the vaccine and if you need to take antibiotics. This is true even if you have been vaccinated!
Are there any side effects?
It’s very uncommon to have side-effects from vaccines.
The most common side effects are:
- Redness and/or soreness where the shot was given
- Mild swelling around the area of the shot
- Slight fever
- Serious allergic reactions are rare (hives, swelling of the face/throat, dizziness, weakness, fast heartbeat) that would start within a few minutes-1 hr. after the shot is given).
Is there any reason why I should wait or not get the meningococcal vaccine?
Most pre-teens and teens get the meningococcal vaccine without any problems. However, there are some reasons when you should wait or not get it.
You should not get the meningococcal vaccine if you:
- Have had an allergic or bad reaction to the meningococcal vaccine in the past
- Have had a serious allergic reaction to any part of the vaccine (for example, the vaccine fluid)
- Are very sick when you are scheduled to get the shot (call your health care provider and reschedule your appointment)
Is there anything else I should know before I get the meningitis vaccine?
Yes. It’s a good idea to ask your health care provider about your vaccine history.
Questions to ask may include:
- Are there any reasons why I shouldn’t get the meningococcal vaccine?
- Do I have any known allergies to any medicine or vaccine?
- What should I do if I come in contact with someone who has meningococcal disease?
Check with your health care provider about whether you are immunized and whether you need to take preventive antibiotics.
What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is a serious illness and the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children 2-18 years old (in the United States). Bacterial meningitis infects the covering of the brain and the spinal cord.
How do you get meningococcal disease?
The meningococcal bacteria is usually spread by coming in contact with respiratory secretions when an infected person coughs or sneezes or by having contact with saliva (fluid in the mouth) when drinking from a water bottle, sharing cigarettes, and kissing. The bacteria may live in the throat without causing any symptoms, or may cause an infection of the blood or the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The most common early symptoms are: high fever, chills, headache, tiredness, stiff neck and later, sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 1200 people living in the United States will get meningococcal disease each year. Of these people infected with the bacteria, 10-15% will die, (even with treatment). The good news is most types of meningococcal disease can be prevented by getting vaccinated.
Who is at risk for getting meningococcal disease?
Anybody at any age living anywhere can get meningococcal disease; the disease is most common in children younger than 5 years, (infants are particularly at risk), teens 16-21 and people over 65 are at a higher risk. College students or anyone living in crowded living conditions are at a higher risk because the meningococcal bacteria are easily spread from one person to another. About 1000 people become infected with meningococcal disease in the U.S. each year. It is a very serious disease and even with treatment, about 1 in 10 people will die from it. For those who survive, about 20% may have permanent damage such as deafness, seizures, mental retardation, or loss of fingers and toes.
How is meningococcal disease treated?
Meningococcal disease is treated with antibiotics such as penicillin. Early treatment is very important! The best form of protection against this serious disease is PREVENTION – getting vaccinated!Additional Resources