What to Know About the Meningitis Vaccine

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Two types of vaccines can help protect you from meningococcal disease, including meningitis.

Meningococcal disease is extremely rare in the United States, affecting roughly one in a million Americans annually. However, certain groups, including young people and teens, are at higher risk.

Since meningococcal disease can cause serious illness and even death, most Americans benefit from getting the vaccine. The meningitis vaccines protect against bacterial meningitis, which can cause the most serious cases. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all teenagers get the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which protects against four strains of bacteria that can cause meningitis. Most children get their first dose at age 11 or 12, and a booster at 16. However, in some cases, the CDC recommends giving the vaccine to younger children who are at increased risk for meningitis. 

A second type of meningitis vaccine is not universally recommended, but is available to older teens and is recommended for people who are at high risk of contracting meningitis. You should speak with your doctor about whether this vaccine is right for you or your child. 

Here’s everything you need to know about meningitis vaccines. 

meningitis vaccine

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Types of Meningitis Vaccines

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two types of meningitis vaccines. Both of these vaccines protect against bacterial meningitis, which is the most common type of meningitis.

They do not offer protection from viral meningitis, which is more common. The two types of vaccines differ based on what strains of bacteria they protect against. 

MenACWY

The MenACWY—also known as the meningococcal conjugate vaccine—protects against four common serogroups of Neisseria meningitidis, the bacteria that can cause meningitis.

A serogroup is a family of closely related bacteria. In this case, the vaccine gets its name because it protects from serogroups A, C, W, and Y of Neisseria meningitidis.

The MenACWY vaccine is recommended for all children and some other high-risk groups. Here’s who should get the MenACWY vaccine:

  • Most children, with the first dose at age 11 or 12, and a booster at age 16
  • Kids over the age of two months who are immunocompromised, who live or travel in countries where meningitis is common, or who have been identified as part of an outbreak
  • College students living in a dorm, and military recruits 
  • Adults who are immunocompromised, living or traveling in a country where meningitis is more common, working with bacteria that could cause meningitis, or who have been identified as part of an outbreak

The MenACWY vaccine is sold under three brand names: Menactra, Menveo, and MenQuadfi. They are all administered over two doses and can be used for all of the groups listed above (except for Menactra, which starts at 9 months old).

MenB

The MenB vaccine—also known as Serogroup B meningococcal vaccine—protects against one additional serogroup of Neisseria meningitidis—the B serogroup. This vaccine can be given in addition to the MenACWY vaccine to provide additional protection to people who are at high risk for meningitis. It can even be administered at the same time as the MenACWY vaccine.

The MenB vaccine is available to any teen ages 16 to 23 years. It’s recommended that most teens who are immunocompromised or who have been part of an outbreak get the vaccine. In addition to teens, the MenB vaccine is available to:

  • Children ages 10 and older who are immunocompromised or who have been part of an outbreak
  • Adults who are immunocompromised, part of an outbreak, or who work with bacteria including Neisseria meningitidis

The MenB vaccine is sold under two brand names:

  • Bexsero is given in two doses to people ages 10 or older who have an increased risk, or anyone ages 16 to 23 who chooses it. 
  • Trumenba is given in two doses to people ages 16 to 23 who opt for the vaccine. It’s given in three doses to people ages 10 or older who have an increased risk. 

When to Avoid

In most cases, the meningitis vaccine is safe and effective, particularly for people who are at increased risk for meningitis. There are no groups that should universally avoid these vaccines. However, you should speak to your doctor if:

  • You have had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past. If you have any serious allergies, speak with your doctor about how the vaccine’s ingredients might affect you. 
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding. The CDC recommends the MenACWY for pregnant and breastfeeding women who are at increased risk for meningitis. The organization recommends that pregnant or breastfeeding women speak with their doctor to weigh the benefits and risks of the MenB vaccine to reach an individualized decision about whether to get it.
  • You are sick. A minor illness like a cold shouldn’t delay the vaccine, but if you have a more serious sickness, talk to your doctor about waiting until you’ve recovered. 

Side Effects

Side effects from the meningitis vaccines are generally mild and may include:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle soreness
  • Nausea or diarrhea (with the MenB vaccine only)

With the MenACWY vaccine, these side effects generally last a day or two; with the MenB vaccine, they can last three to five days. You can manage these symptoms using a warm compress on the injection site, or by administering acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). 

Potential Serious Side Effect

Very rarely, serious side effects can occur with any vaccine. Speak with your doctor immediately if you or your child experience:

  • Dizziness, ringing in the ears, or vision changes after the vaccine is administered. This could indicate that you are going to faint. 
  • Severe pain in your shoulder or trouble moving your arm where the shot was administered.
  • Symptoms of an allergic reaction, including changes to breathing. This can happen even hours after a shot is given. 

A Word From Verywell

Although bacterial meningitis cases are rare in the United States, it’s important to keep up to date with your meningitis vaccines. Part of the reason that meningitis rates are so low in the United States is due to the high vaccination rates.

In addition, meningitis is extremely serious if you contract it: the disease kills one in seven people who are affected, and one in five people who survive it have permanent disabilities.

By comparison, the side effects of the meningitis vaccines are nothing to worry about. You may experience a sore arm or some fatigue, but the peace of mind you’ll get from knowing that you’re vaccinated from the most common and harmful strains of meningitis is likely worth those minor side effects.

If you have hesitations about the meningitis vaccine or are unclear when you or your child should get it, speak with your doctor. They’ll be able to give you information that is specific to you so that you can make an informed decision for your health and the health of your child. 

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal disease: surveillance data tables. Updated May 31, 2019.

  2. KidsHealth from Nemours. Your child’s immunizations: meningococcal vaccines. Updated February 2020.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal vaccination: what everyone should know. Updated July 26, 2019.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal vaccination for preteens and teens: information for parents. Updated July 26, 2019.