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Meningococcal Vaccine for Teens

Meningococcal vaccine is a shot to help prevent meningococcal disease. The disease is most common in babies, teens, and young adults. It’s also more common in people over age 65. The vaccine protects you against the most common types of the disease. 

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is caused by a type of bacteria. It can cause infections of the bloodstream. And it can cause meningitis. Meningitis is a serious infection. It affects the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It can cause death. Even if you take antibiotics, meningitis can cause serious problems. It can cause the loss of fingers and toes, brain damage, seizures, strokes, or deafness.

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine is made from parts of dead meningococcal bacteria. The vaccine helps your body build its defense against future infections. Your defense system includes antibodies. Your body makes these to fight specific infections. This shot helps your body make the right antibodies that fight off meningococcal disease. The vaccine prevents many types of meningococcal infections. It doesn’t protect against all of them. You can't become infected with the disease by getting the shot. 

Who should get the vaccine?

Meningococcal vaccine is recommended for:

  • Teens going to certain countries, including parts of Africa

  • College students

  • Teens living close together, such as in a dorm on a college campus or in military barracks

  • Teens with weak immune systems or who take medicines that weaken the immune system (like chemotherapy or transplant medicines)

  • Teens who don't have a spleen, or their spleen does not work right

  • Students who work with or study meningococcal diseases in the lab

The vaccine is not recommended if you:

  • Had a bad reaction before to the meningococcal vaccine

  • Are moderately or severely ill

Types of vaccines

There are 2 types of meningococcal vaccines for teens and young adults. Each vaccine protects against different strains of meningococcal disease. Both types of vaccines can be given at the same time. If you get both, your provider may give them in different arms. The vaccines are:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY). This vaccine is advised for all teens. It helps protect against meningococcal disease types A, C, W, and Y. Two doses, given as shots, are advised for all teens age 11 to 18. The first dose is given between ages 11 to 12. A booster shot is given at age 16. Some teens with certain health risks may need extra doses. For teens not vaccinated with it before, 1 dose may be given between ages 13 to 15. Then a booster is given between ages 16 and 18.

  • Meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine. This vaccine is only advised for some teens. It helps protect against meningococcal B infections. Ask your healthcare provider if you need it. The CDC advises MenB for people who are at higher risk because of a meningococcal B outbreak. Outbreaks can happen where people are living close together. Examples are a dorm at college or in military barracks. The MenB vaccine is also advised for teens and young adults who have certain health conditions, such as a weak immune system or no spleen. The best time to get the MenB vaccine is between ages 16 to 18. It may be given up to age 23. Talk with your healthcare provider about whether you should get the MenB shot.

Risks and possible side effects

The shot has a few risks. Side effects are usually mild and go away within a few days. They may include:

  • Soreness and swelling at the site of the injection

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Headache

  • Joint pain

  • Fever or chills

  • Rare allergic reactions

You can take over-the-counter pain medicine to ease any pain and swelling after you get the shot.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you have any of these:

  • High fever

  • vomiting

  • Tiredness that doesn’t get better

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
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