The Meningococcal Vaccine

Written by Amy Boulanger | Published on December 4, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH on December 4, 2014

Meningococcal Vaccination

Meningococcal disease is a highly contagious bacterial illness. It can be spread through the air via coughing and sneezing. It can also be spread directly from one person to another through kissing. This disease is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children and young adults.

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid around the brain and spinal cord. It can be extremely serious. Even with antibiotic treatment, people may die. It can also cause:

  • deafness
  • seizures
  • strokes
  • nerve damage
  • loss of limbs

Vaccination is the best way to prevent meningococcal disease. It can affect people of all ages. However, college students living in dorms are more at risk. This is because they live together in close quarters. Military personnel living in barracks are at similar risk.

Who Needs Vaccination?

The meningococcal vaccine is recommended for young adults who will be living in shared spaces. It’s also recommended for people who have:

  • HIV
  • spleen damage
  • complement component deficiency (an immune disorder)
  • been exposed to an outbreak
  • plans to travel someplace where the disease is common

Types of Vaccine

This vaccine is offered in two versions in the United States. Both vaccines are quadrivalent. This means they protect against four types of meningococcal disease. The vaccines are MCV4 (meningococcal conjugate vaccine) and MPSV4 (meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine).

MCV4 is the preferred vaccine. It’s recommended for those between the ages of 11 and 18 and for:

  • high-risk individuals age 2 through 55
  • college freshmen who plan to live in dorms
  • military recruits
  • anyone traveling to high-risk countries
  • people with immune system disorders or spleen damage

The MPSV4 may be used if the MCV4 is not available. In addition, MPSV4 is licensed for adults over 55 years old. MCV4 may not be used in adults over 55. 

Dosage

The number of shots you need depends on when you get the vaccine. If your first dose is before age 16, you will need a booster shot later. If your first dose is after age 16, you only need one shot.

Teens with HIV receive a three-shot series.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

The several groups of people who shouldn’t get the meningococcal vaccine are:

  • those who have had an allergic reaction to a previous meningococcal vaccine
  • those who are allergic to any component of the vaccine
  • anyone who is currently moderately to severely ill

Pregnant women who need vaccination should get MPSV4. MCV4 may be safe. However, there’s not enough data to be certain.

Potential Side Effects

The risk of serious harm from this vaccine is small. However, any medication can have side effects.  Potential side effects include:

  • redness or pain at the site of the shot
  • fever
  • severe allergic reaction (very rare)

Some people, particularly teens, may faint or fall down after the vaccination is administered. This can cause injuries. It’s a good idea to sit or lie down for 15 minutes after any vaccination. 

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