Meningitis vaccine: This term usually refers to a vaccine used to prevent meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord due to bacterial infection by Neisseria meningitidis.
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in 1999 made a unanimous recommendation that college freshmen (there are some 500,000 of them in the U.S.) be vaccinated against this type of bacterial meningitis.
A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA 1999;281:1906-1910) showed that college students who live on campus have triple the risk of acquiring meningococcal infection compared with their peers who live off-campus. Among the factors cited for a higher risk of the disease on campus were the relative crowding associated with dormitory residence, alcohol-related behaviors, and exposure to tobacco smoke. The same factors make young adults who are military recruits at higher risk for meningococcal meningitis and provide the basis for recommendations that they, too, receive the vaccine.
The vaccine is generally effective against most strains of the bacteria affecting college students in the U.S. (In technical terms, it is about 85% effective against the 4 strains of the bacteria that cause about two-thirds of the cases of meningococcal meningitis among college students). Protection by the vaccine lasts at least 3 years. A booster is not needed in college
The vaccine is not recommended for the general population because of the low incidence of this type of infection and also because it is not effective against the strains of the bacteria that cause disease among infants and others outside the college age range.