September 29, 2023

Meningococcal Vaccines

Vial of Meningococcal Vaccine

The meningococcal vaccine helps protect against bacteria that cause meningococcal disease, which can result in bacterial meningitis (an infection of the brain and spinal cord) and other life-threatening and permanently disabling illnesses.

Approximately 375 people get meningococcal disease each year. Of those, up to 15% die, and one in five survivors has lifelong disabilities, including brain damage, deafness, seizures, and loss of limbs. Fortunately, meningococcal vaccines are effective at preventing the disease.

How Safe Is a Meningococcal Vaccine?

There are two meningococcal vaccines, and both are safe and effective. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) protects against four kinds of meningococcal bacteria (A, C, W, and Y). If you’re wondering, “When should I get a meningococcal vaccine for my child?” doctors recommend it for kids who are 11 or 12, with a booster at age 16.

Teens who aren’t vaccinated may get the shot between the ages of 13 and 18. And in some instances, doctors give the MenACWY vaccine to younger children (as young as eight weeks) with a higher risk of meningococcal disease.

The meningococcal vaccine schedule may also be accelerated for children who live in or travel to countries where meningococcal disease is common, are in an area experiencing an outbreak, or have certain immune disorders. The meningococcal B vaccine (MenB) addresses a fifth kind of bacterium (type B). It’s a newer immunization that doctors don’t recommend as a routine vaccination. It’s for kids and teens 10 and older with a higher risk of contracting the disease.

Meningococcal Vaccine Side Effects

Approximately half of those who get the meningococcal conjugate vaccine experience mild side effects, including:

  • Redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site
  • Muscle pain
  • Tiredness
  • Headache

Side effects typically resolve within two days. The risk of more serious side effects is low. And meningococcal vaccines contain only a tiny piece of the bacteria they protect against, so you can’t get meningococcal disease from the shots.

Over half of those receiving the meningococcal B vaccine have side effects, which may last for 3 to 5 days. They can include:

  • Redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

People can get both meningococcal vaccines in the same visit — one in each arm. Another common side effect for preteens getting any type of shot is fainting.

Consequently, providers have them sit or lie down and stay in that position for approximately 15 minutes after the vaccination. Applying a heating pad or a warm, damp cloth to the injection site can reduce soreness. So can moving the arm.

Ask your doctor about giving your child over-the-counter pain relievers to help reduce side effects.

Who Should Not Get Meningococcal Vaccines?

Kids with illnesses besides the common cold or other minor conditions shouldn’t get meningococcal vaccines. The shots are also not recommended for anyone who has had a significant allergic reaction to a prior dose, the DTaP shot, or latex.

Talk with Your Baptist Health Doctor About Meningococcal Vaccines

Meningococcal vaccines provide essential protection from meningococcal disease and other severe illnesses. If you have questions about these immunizations, your primary care physician or care team is happy to answer them.

Learn More.