The Meningococcal Vaccine
What You Need to Know
- What is meningococcal disease?
- The meningococcal vaccine
- Who should get the meningococcal vaccine and when?
- Some people should not get the meningococcal vaccine or should wait
- What are the risks from meningococcal vaccines?
- What if there is a moderate or severe reaction?
- What is the national vaccine injury compensation program?
- How can I learn more?
What is Meningococcal Disease?
Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness. It is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children 2 through 18 years old in the United States. Meningitis is an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease also causes blood infections.
About 1,000 - 2,600 people get meningococcal disease each year in the U.S. Even when they are treated with antibiotics, 10-15% of these people die. Of those who survive, another 11-19% lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have problems with their nervous systems, become mentally retarded, or suffer seizures or strokes.
Anyone can get meningococcal disease. But it is most common in infants less than one year of age and people with certain medical conditions, such as lack of a spleen. College freshmen who live in dormitories, and teenagers 15-19 have an increased risk of getting meningococcal disease.
Meningococcal infections can be treated with drugs such as penicillin. Still, about 1 out of every ten people who get the disease dies from it, and many others are affected for life. This is why preventing the disease through use of meningococcal vaccine is important for people at highest risk.
There are two kinds of meningococcal vaccine in the U.S.:
- Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) was licensed in 2005. It is the preferred vaccine for people 2 through 55 years of age.
- Meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) has been available since the 1970s. It may be used if MCV4 is not available, and is the only meningococcal vaccine licensed for people older than 55.
Both vaccines can prevent 4 types of meningococcal disease, including 2 of the 3 types most common in the United States and a type that causes epidemics in Africa. Meningococcal vaccines cannot prevent all types of the disease. But they do protect many people who might become sick if they didn't get the vaccine.
Both vaccines work well, and protect about 90% of people who get them. MCV4 is expected to give better longer-lasting protection.
MCV4 should also be better at preventing the disease from spreading from person to person.
Who Should Get the Meningococcal Vaccine and When?
Meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for other people at increased risk for meningococcal disease:
- College freshmen living in dormitories.
- Microbiologists who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria.
- U.S. military recruits.
- Anyone traveling to, or living in, a part of the world where meningococcal disease is common, such as parts of Africa.
- Anyone who has a damaged spleen, or whose spleen has been removed.
- People who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak.
- MCV4 is the preferred vaccine for people 2 through 55 years of age in these risk groups. MPSV4 can be used if MCV4 is not available and for adults over 55.
How Many Doses?
People 2 years of age and older should get 1 dose. Sometimes a second dose is recommended for people who remain at high risk. Ask your provider.
MPSV4 may be recommended for children 3 months to 2 years of age under special circumstances. These children should get 2 doses, 3 months apart.
Some People Should Not Get the Meningococcal Vaccine or Should Wait
- Anyone who has ever had a severe (life-threatening) allergic reaction to a previous dose of either meningococcal vaccine should not get another dose.
- Anyone who has a severe (life threatening) allergy to any vaccine component should not get the vaccine. Tell your provider if you have any severe allergies.
- Anyone who is moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled should probably wait until they recover. Ask your provider. People with a mild illness can usually get the vaccine.
- Anyone who has ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome should talk with their provider before getting MCV4.
- Meningococcal vaccines may be given to pregnant women. However, MCV4 is a new vaccine and has not been studied in pregnant women as much as MPSV4 has. It should be used only if clearly needed.
- Meningococcal vaccines may be given at the same time as other vaccines.
What Are the Risks from Meningococcal Vaccines?
A vaccine, like any medicine, could possibly cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of meningococcal vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.
As many as half the people who get meningococcal vaccines have mild side effects, such as redness or pain where the shot was given.
If these problems occur, they usually last for 1 or 2 days.
They are more common after MCV4 than after MPSV4.
A small percentage of people who receive the vaccine develop a fever.
- Serious allergic reactions, within a few minutes to a few hours of the shot, are very rare.
- A serious nervous system disorder called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (or GBS) has been reported among some people who received MCV4. This happens so rarely that it is currently not possible to tell if the vaccine might be a factor. Even if it is, the risk is very small.
What if There is a Moderate or Severe Reaction?
What Should I Look For?
- Any unusual condition, such as a high fever, weakness, or behavior changes. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness.
What Should I Do?
- Call a doctor, or get the person to a doctor right away.
- Tell the doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given.
- Ask your provider to report the reaction by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form. Or you can file this report through the VAERS website at www.vaers.hhs.gov, or by calling 1-800-822-7967.
What is the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program?
A federal program exists to help pay for the care of anyone who has a serious reaction to a vaccine.
For more information about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, call
1-800-338-2382 or visit their website at www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation.
How Can I Learn More?
- Ask your provider. They can give you the vaccine package insert or suggest other sources of information.
- Call your local or state health department.
- Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Call 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO) or
- Visit CDC's website at www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
Centers for Disease Control
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