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Meningococcal Vaccine

By

Margot L. Savoy

, MD, MPH, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Last full review/revision Aug 2019| Content last modified Aug 2019
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NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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The meningococcal vaccine protects against infections caused by the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis (meningococci). Meningococcal infections can lead to meningitis (an infection of tissue covering the brain), dangerously low blood pressure (shock), and death. These bacteria are the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children and the second leading cause of bacterial meningitis in adults. The infection can cause the following symptoms:

  • Initially, fever, nausea, headache, and leg pain

  • Later, a rash, decreased blood pressure, and cold hands and feet

  • Progression from feeling well to being very sick within hours

  • Shock and death

For more information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Meningococcal vaccine information statement.

There are several groups of Neisseria meningitidis. Current vaccines are directed against some but not all of these groups. Three formulations of the meningococcal vaccine are available in the United States:

  • The conjugate vaccine (MCV4) is preferred for people aged 9 months to 55 years and is used for routine childhood vaccination.

  • The polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) is used only in certain people over age 55.

  • Meningococcal group B vaccine (MenB) is available to prevent infection by one type of meningitis bacteria that has become common in outbreaks among college students.

Administration

The meningococcal vaccine is given in one dose as an injection under the skin or into a muscle.

As a part of routine childhood vaccination, the MCV4 meningococcal vaccine is recommended for all children at age 11 to 12 years, with a booster at age 16 years.

The vaccine is also recommended for younger children who are at increased risk of meningococcal infection, such as those without a functioning spleen and those with certain immunodeficiency disorders. The minimum age for the vaccine varies from 6 weeks to 9 months, depending on the formulation used.

The meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for the following adolescents and adults:

  • People who do not have a functioning spleen

  • People with HIV infection

  • People with certain immunodeficiency disorders

  • People who take eculizumab (a drug that blocks the complement system)

  • Microbiologists who are routinely exposed to the bacteria

  • Adolescents if they have not already been vaccinated

  • All first-year college students who live in dormitories and who have not been given a dose of the vaccine on or after their 16th birthday

  • All military recruits

  • Travelers to or residents of areas where the disease is common

  • People who have been exposed during a meningitis outbreak

If people have a temporary illness, doctors usually wait to give the vaccine until the illness resolves (see also CDC: Who Should NOT Get Vaccinated With These Vaccines?).

Side Effects

The injection site may become sore, swollen, and red. Some people have headaches and feel tired. A few people have a fever.

More Information

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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