Meningococcal Vaccine – Everything You Need To Know

Written by Rakhee M • 

Several vaccines are prescribed for your child right from their birth until they are teens. Meningococcal vaccine is one of them as it protects your kid from meningitis.

Read on to know more about the diseases and the effect of vaccines on preventing them..

Meningococcal Vaccine:

The vaccine provides protection against bacterial infection called meningococcal (1).

The infection, caused by bacterium meningococcus (neisseria meningitides), can cause two types of diseases – inflammation of the membranes covering the spinal cord and the brain (meningitis), and severe blood infection (septicemia or sepsis).

Meningococcal vaccine can protect your child from these life-threatening diseases (2) by fighting against five serogroups A, C, W, Y and B. Serogroups are bacteria/virus with a common type of antigen (3) (4).

The three available vaccines for the five serogroups are:

1. Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) protects against serogroups A, C, W, Y and was the first meningococcal vaccine, approved for use in 1978. 2. Meningococcal conjugate vaccines (MCV4) were approved for use in 2005. MenACWY is for serogroups A, C, W, Y, and Hib-MenCY-TT for serogroups C, Y. 3. Serogroup B meningococcal vaccines (MenB) are two vaccines, MenB-FHpb and MenB-4, approved in 2015 to protect against serogroup B meningococcal disease (5).

Need For Meningococcal Vaccine:

Meningococcal diseases are serious infections. In the absence of prompt treatment, these infections can be life-threatening. Babies under one year of age are at a greater risk. Teenagers and adults in their early 20s are also susceptible to the disease. People with a compromised or weak immune system are also at a higher risk of contracting infections.

Since meningococcal vaccine doesn’t protect against all strains of the bacterium meningococcus, it is possible to get the meningococcal disease from a different bacterium strain even after taking the vaccine shot. But with vaccination, there is a lower risk of getting meningitis (6).

Who Needs Meningococcal Vaccines:

Kids of all ages and adults can benefit from meningococcal vaccines (7).

  • All teens and preteens need the vaccine. MenB is also recommended for all teens and adults in their early 20s.
  • Meningococcal vaccine is ideal for those traveling to places with widespread cases of the diseases, for researchers who are at a risk of exposure to meningococcal bacteria, and for military recruits or those living in dormitories (for instance college kids).
  • Babies and adults with a damaged spleen or those with complement component deficiency (complement in medical terms refers to a group of proteins that help fight infections) also need the vaccine.
  • All adults over the age of 56.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated:

  • Here are some cases where people should avoid getting a meningococcal shot (8).
  • Those who experienced severe allergic reactions to any meningococcal vaccine must avoid the booster shot.
  • Those who are sick should wait for recovery before getting a meningococcal shot.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your doctor before getting your vaccine shot. Not all meningococcal vaccines have been studied for safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Vaccine Types And Schedule:

Meningococcal vaccine is for all age groups. Ask your child’s doctor for the best time for her meningococcal vaccine shot (9) (10).

1. For Children:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine either MenACWY or Hib-MenCY-TT.
  • Booster dose depending on your child’s unique needs such as travels and health conditions.

2. For Preteens and Teens:

  • MenACWY is usually recommended for kids aged 11 to 18 years.
  • The first dose recommendation is when kids are between 11 and 12 years of age.
  • The booster dose recommendation is when they are 16 years of age.
  • Teens who receive their first dose between 13 and 15 years must receive a booster dose when they are between 16 and 18 years.
  • Teens who received their first dose when they are 16 or older do not require a booster shot unless under special circumstances such as travels and health issues.

3. For Adults:

  • MenACWY or MPSV4 is for adults
  • Adults may need a booster dose if they remain at risk for meningococcal diseases.

Guidelines For Getting MenB shots

  • For MenB-FHpb, two doses are needed with a gap of one month(11).
  • For MenB-4, three doses are required with a gap of three months in between the doses.
  • Recommended for those ten years and older while the ideal age is 16 to 18 years.

Side Effects Of Meningococcal Vaccines:

Meningococcal vaccine has mild to severe side effects but is not life-threatening. These reactions can begin an hour or two after the vaccination and can last up to several days (12).

1. Mild Side Effects:

  • Swelling, redness or pain at the injection piercing site
  • Fever, chills
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea, nausea
  • Fatigue

2. Severe Side Effects:

  • Extreme pain in the arm or shoulder
  • Fainting spells
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Vision changes
  • Serious allergic reaction

3. Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) Risk:

There have been cases where people developed Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) after receiving their MCV4 shot. GBS is a nervous disorder, which causes inflammation in the nerves. Talk to your child’s doctor if you have any concerns about GBS and MCV4 link (13) (14) (15).

Information For Parents Of Teenagers:

  • Teenagers are quite susceptible to meningococcal disease. The vaccine can protect your child from devastating effects of meningitis. Meningococcal meningitis can cause brain damage, hearing loss and can be fatal. Therefore, it is critical for parents to ensure that their teenagers receive meningococcal vaccines on time (16).
  • Your teens can receive MCV4 and MenB vaccines at the same time. Since MenB is recommended only after 16 years, teenagers can receive the vaccine for serogroup B along with their MCV4 booster shot.
  • Teens need a booster shot of MCV4 as effects of vaccine begin to decline after a period of five years. Young adults going to college may need a booster shot.
  • MenB vaccines do not yet come within routine vaccination schedule for teens as they are relatively new. It has the same side effects as MCV4.

The right meningococcal vaccine at the right time and in the right dose can protect your child from several meningococcus strains. Have your kids received their meningococcal vaccine yet?

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