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Your Child’s Immunizations: Meningococcal Vaccines

The meningococcal vaccines protect against meningococcal disease, which can lead to bacterial meningitis and other serious infections.

Two kinds of meningococcal (meh-nin-guh-KOK-uhl) vaccines are currently given to kids in the United States:

  1. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) protects against four types of meningococcal bacteria (types A, C, W, and Y). It is recommended for all kids and teens age 11 and older. Some types of MenACWY are given to younger children (as early as 8 weeks of age) if they have a higher risk of getting meningococcal disease.
  2. The meningococcal B vaccine (MenB) protects against a fifth type of meningococcal bacterium (called type B). It is fairly new and not yet recommended as a routine vaccination for healthy people. But some kids and teens who are at increased risk for meningococcal disease should get it starting from age 10. Others who are not at increased risk may also get it between the ages of 16 and 23 (preferably between 16 through 18 as that is when the risk of getting infected is highest). The decision to get the MenB vaccine is made by the teen, their parents, and their doctor.

When Are Meningococcal Vaccines Given?

Vaccination with MenACWY is recommended:

  • when kids are 11 or 12 years old, with a booster given at age 16
  • for teens 13–18 years old who haven’t been vaccinated yet

Those who have their first dose between the ages of 13–15 should get a booster dose between the ages of 16–18. Teens who get their first dose after age 16 won’t need a booster dose.

Kids and teens who are at higher risk for meningococcal disease need the full series of MenACWY vaccines, even if they’re younger than 11 years old. This includes kids who:

  • live in or travel to countries where the disease is common
  • are present during an outbreak of the disease
  • have some kinds of immune disorders. If the immune disorders are chronic, these kids also need a booster dose a few years later, depending on their age at the first dose.

The MenACWY vaccine is also especially important for students who live in college dorms and for military recruits.

The sequence and dosage depend on the child’s age, medical condition, and vaccine brand. Some types of meningococcal vaccines can be given as early as 8 weeks of age.

Kids 10 years and older with these risk factors also should get the MenB vaccine. They’ll need 2 or 3 doses depending on the brand. They might need more booster doses if the risk factor remains.

For those without risk factors, the decision to receive the MenB vaccine should be made together by teens, their parents, and the doctor. For them, the preferred age range is 16–18 years. Usually, they need 2 doses.

The MenACWY and MenB vaccines can be given at the same time, but at a different place on the body.

Why Are Meningococcal Vaccines Recommended?

Meningococcal disease is caused by a type of bacteria. It can lead to an infection of the bloodstream or meningitis, or both, and can be life-threatening if not quickly treated. The MenACWY vaccine is very effective at protecting against four strains of the bacteria, while the MenB vaccine protects against a fifth strain.

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Meningococcal Vaccines?

Some of the most common side effects are swelling, redness, and pain at the site of the injection, along with headache, fever, or tiredness. Serious problems, such as allergic reactions, are rare.

The meningococcal vaccines contain only a small piece of the germ, so it can’t cause meningococcal disease.

When to Delay or Avoid Immunization

The vaccine is not recommended if:

  • your child is currently sick. But simple colds or other minor illnesses should not prevent immunization.
  • your child had a serious allergic reaction to an earlier dose of meningococcal vaccine, to the DTaP vaccine, or to latex

What Happens After the Immunization?

Your child might have a fever, soreness, and some swelling and redness at the injection area. Check with your doctor to see if you can give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain or fever and to find out the right dose.

A warm, damp cloth or a heating pad on the injection site may help reduce soreness, as can moving or using the arm.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor if:

  • You aren’t sure if the vaccine should be postponed or avoided.
  • There are problems after the immunization.