Meningitis is a serious illness that causes inflammation of the membranes around the spinal cord and neck. It can be fatal without prompt treatment.

The meningitis vaccine is one of the best ways to prevent meningitis. There are two versions of the meningitis vaccine available. Your age and risk for meningitis influence which vaccine is right for you. Keep reading to learn about the recommended schedule for receiving this vaccine and the side effects.

Which vaccine is used for meningitis?

In the United States, there are two meningitis vaccines available:

  • The Meningococcal conjugate, or MenACWY, vaccine is generally recommended for children and teenagers. This is also the vaccine that’s recommended for most adults.
  • The Serogroup B meningococcal, or MenB, vaccine is usually recommended for adults or teens with some autoimmune conditions. It may also be recommended for those who are breastfeeding.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends schedules for meningitis vaccine dosing. Getting vaccines on the recommended schedule is the best way to ensure the vaccine takes effect and provides protection. The schedule you need will depend on your age.

Meningitis vaccine schedule for college-age people

Many colleges require students who will be living in dorms to provide proof of the MenACWY vaccine. Generally, this vaccine needs to have been received within 5 years of starting school.

If you’re a college-age student and haven’t received a booster dose of MenACWY, you’ll need to receive it before starting school.

In some cases, a MenB vaccine can be given at the same time. If you receive a MenB shot, you’ll need a second MenB shot in 6 months. However, the MenB shot isn’t necessary for most college students. Talk with your doctor about the best meningitis vaccine and vaccine schedule for you or your child.

Vaccine schedule by brand

What brand of vaccine you get also determines your vaccine schedule. For example:

  • Trubenmba is either given in a two- or three-dose series:
    • two doses given 6 months apart
    • three doses given 2 months and 6 months after the first
  • Bexsero is a two-dose series given at least 1 month apart.

If you have any questions about if and when you should get a booster or second dose of your vaccine, make sure to ask the healthcare professional that administers your shot. In most cases, they’ll be able to book you an appointment for any follow-up doses when you get your first one.

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Meningitis vaccine schedule for babies or children

The CDC recommends that children receive their first MenACWY vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12. The MenACWY vaccine is a single dose vaccine, but a booster shot is recommended at age 16.

Children under 10 years, including babies, who are at especially high risk for meningitis are sometimes also advised to get the MenACWY vaccine. This group includes:

  • children with HIV
  • children with sickle cell anemia
  • children with damaged spleens
  • children who’ve had their spleens surgically removed
  • children who take complement inhibitor medications

Your vaccine schedule depends on the vaccine you receive and your age. For example, children who receive the MenACWY vaccine need a booster after 5 years. Teenagers who receive the MenACWY vaccine at 16 years or later will not ever need a booster. The MenB vaccine always requires at least two doses, but it doesn’t require a booster.

Adults very rarely need meningitis vaccines. The only exceptions are adults who are medically at high risk, such as:

  • adults with HIV or sickle cell anemia
  • adults who will be traveling to high risk parts of the world
  • adults who are microbiologists and work professionally with meningitis bacteria

Talk with your doctor if you’re not sure what your risk of meningitis is. They can help you determine if you need a vaccine.

When was the meningitis vaccine developed?

A form of meningitis vaccine has been available since the 1970s. However, this early meningitis vaccine was most effective in adults. Since children, teens, and college-age young adults are the populations most at risk for meningitis, this vaccine was not an ideal way to combat meningitis.

In 2005, a vaccine called MCV4 that produced more reliable immunity in children was introduced. The MenACWY vaccine used today was introduced in 2010. The MenB vaccine is available from two major brands and first became available in 2014.

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The meningitis vaccine is safe. Most people who receive the vaccine don’t have any serious side effects or complications. The side effects that do occur tend to be mild and normally go away on their own after a day or two. However, all vaccines can have some side effects.

Possible side effects of the MenACWY vaccine include:

Possible side effects of the MenB vaccine include:

Vaccines are effective protection against meningitis, but they don’t prevent 100% of all cases. However, when the CDC recommended that children get the MenACWY vaccine for meningitis in 2005, cases in the United States decreased by 90%.

Meningitis is very rare, so data on vaccine effectiveness is limited. The protective effects of the MenACWY vaccine decrease after 5 years. This is why it’s strongly recommended that 16-year-olds receive a booster dose.

Research suggests that the protective antibodies your body makes after a dose of the MenB vaccine decrease after 1 to 2 years.

Medicare and most private insurance will cover vaccines as part of preventive care. Check with your insurance plan for details about any copays that may be required.

If you’re uninsured and need vaccines for your child, the federally funded program Vaccines for Children (VFC) can help get them the care they need and meet any requirements for their school.

Coping with vaccine anxiety

Vaccines have helped eliminate some diseases and played a huge role in making others very rare. They’re an important part of preventive healthcare.

However, not everyone is comfortable with vaccines. Needles are a common fear, and many people worry about the possible side effects of vaccines.

It can be helpful to learn more about vaccines. The CDC provides a wealth of resources you can turn to for information about vaccine safety:

You can also talk with your doctor about any recommended vaccines for you or your child. They can walk you through your risks, and through any side effects that you might experience.

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Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that surround your brain and spinal cord. The infection can be very serious and even fatal in severe cases. The meningitis vaccine is the most important step you can take to protect against meningitis.

It’s recommended that children receive the vaccine when they are 11 or 12 years old, followed by a booster at age 16. In some cases, an additional vaccine during teenage, college, or even adult years might be required.

It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about your risk of meningitis. They can help you decide if an additional meningitis vaccine is a good idea for you.