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What Vaccines Protect Against Bacterial Meningitis?

What parents and teens should understand about vaccines for meningococcal ACWY and meningococcal B.

What Vaccines Protect Against Bacterial Meningitis?

Meningococcal disease refers to illnesses that are caused by infection with bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis (also called meningococcus). Infection with these bacteria can cause meningitis—inflammation of the protective membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord. It can also cause blood infections.

While rare, meningococcal disease can be devastating. Between 10 and 15 percent of cases are fatal, even with treatment. Among those who recover from meningococcal disease, roughly 20 percent experience permanent side effects, which can include hearing loss, nerve damage, brain damage, and loss of limbs due to surgical amputation, which may be necessary if the infection spreads into the bloodstream.

While meningococcal disease can affect people of all ages, rates are highest among two age groups—children younger than one year, and young adults between the ages of 16 and 23 years.

Types of meningococcal disease
Bacteria can be categorized into groups called serogroups based on differences in their structure. The serogroups of bacteria that cause the majority of meningococcal disease worldwide are serogroups A, B, C, W, X, and Y. Different serogroups are more common in different parts of the world.

There are vaccines that can protect a person from the serogroups of bacteria that are the most common causes of meningococcal disease:

  • The meningococcal ACWY (MenACWY) vaccine protects against bacteria in the serogroups A, C, W, and Y.
  • The meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine is a separate vaccine that protects against serogroup B bacteria.

MenACWY vaccine
In the United States, the MenACWY vaccine is part of the routine vaccinations that are recommended for adolescents. It is given in two doses. The initial dose should be given at age 11 or 12 years, and a booster dose should be given at age 16 years. Sometimes, additional doses are recommended—for example, if someone has a compromised immune system. In some circumstances, the MenACWY vaccine may be recommended for children between the ages of 2 months and 10 years who are at an increased risk. Many colleges require students to have a MenACWY vaccine.

MenB vaccine
In the United States, the MenB vaccine is not included in the routine vaccinations for adolescents, though it is recommended for people who are at an increased risk, such as those who have certain health conditions that impact the normal functioning of the immune system and those at risk due to an outbreak. Some colleges recommend students be vaccinated against MenB and others require it.

However, adolescents can still receive the MenB vaccine. The decision to get the MenB vaccine is something for parents and teens to discuss with their healthcare provider. For adolescents at normal risk, the MenB vaccine is given between the ages of 16 and 23 (and ideally between the ages of 16 and 18). There are two MenB vaccines available in the United States, which follow different dosing schedules. The same vaccine must be used for all doses and all doses must be completed to get the most protection against MenB.

Work with your healthcare provider
Working with a healthcare provider is the best way to determine what vaccines you and your family need. Talk to your family’s healthcare provider about what they recommend, the risk of meningococcal disease, and any concerns you have. You should also contact your insurance company to ask about coverage and the out-of-pocket costs associated with vaccines.

Medically reviewed in June 2020.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Meningococcal Disease."
Mayo Clinic. "Meninges."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Meningococcal Disease: Technical and Clinical Information."
National Meningitis Association. "Five Facts about Meningococcal Disease and Prevention."
Laboratory Methods for the Diagnosis of Meningitis. "Chapter 2: Epidemiology of Meningitis Caused by Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenza." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lucy A. McNamara and Amy Blain. "Chapter 8: Meningococcal Disease." Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
National Organization for Rare Disorders. "Meningococcal Meningitis."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Meningococcal ACWY VIS."
Immunization Action Coalition. "MenACWY Vaccine Mandates for Colleges and Universities."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Meningococcal B VIS."
Meningitis B Action Project. "Meningitis B Cases and Mandates Tracker."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Administering Meningococcal Vaccines."
American Academy of Family Physicians. "Meningococcal Disease Vaccine."

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