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Meningococcal Vaccine


The meningococcal vaccine protects against the meningococcal bacteria which can cause serious infections such as meningitis (pronounced men-in-ji-tis), a brain fluid infection, and blood stream infections. Although meningococcal infections are rare, they are very serious diseases that can cause death. Even with early treatment, there is a risk of getting serious complications. Fortunately, there is a vaccine against this disease. Read on to learn how you can protect yourself from meningococcal disease.


How do you get meningococcal disease?

The meningococcal bacteria is usually spread by coming in contact with respiratory secretions when an infected person coughs or sneezes or by having contact with saliva (fluid in the mouth) when drinking from a water bottle, sharing cigarettes, and kissing. The bacteria may live in the throat without causing any symptoms, or may cause an infection of the blood or the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The most common early symptoms are: high fever, headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting.


Most types of Meningococcal Disease can be prevented with a vaccine.


Who is at risk for getting meningococcal disease?

Anybody at any age can get meningococcal disease. In fact, close to 3,000 people in the U.S. have a serious infection with the meningococcal bacteria each year; 30% are teens and young adults. College students or anyone living in crowded living conditions are particularly at risk because the meningococcal bacteria are easily spread from one person to another.


How is meningococcal disease treated?

Meningococcal disease is treated with antibiotics such as penicillin. Even with treatment, one in ten people will die. For those who survive, 10-20% may have permanent damage such as deafness, seizures, mental retardation, or loss of fingers and toes. The best form of protection against this serious disease is getting vaccinated!


What is the meningococcal vaccine?

There are three meningococcal vaccines that are available in the United States: MPSV4, MCV4, and MenACWY-CRM.


MPSV4 was made available in the 1970’s and is given to those over age 2 who are at higher risk of meningococcal disease. "MPSV4" stands for Meningococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine.


MCV4 was approved in 2005 and is now being used to protect people who are 2-55 years old. "MCV4" stand for Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine. Scientists believe it is better than the older vaccine and protects people longer.


MenACWY-CRM was approved in 2010 and is now being used to protect people who are 11-55 years old. “MenACWY-CRM” is also a Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine, and works similarly to MCV4.


All of these vaccines are good and protect against most, but not all, types of meningococcal disease. The conjugate vaccines (MCV4 and MenACWY-CRM) are preferred to the polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4).


How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine is made up of parts of the meningococcal bacteria that cannot cause infection. When you get the vaccine, your body makes antibodies to fight the meningococcus bacteria. These antibodies then help protect your body from infection if you come in contact with someone who has meningococcal disease.


Who should get the meningococcal vaccine?

If you are between 11-12 years old, your health care provider will probably recommend that you get the MCV4 or MenACWY-CRM when you have your checkup. If you are older than 12 and haven’t gotten it yet, most likely your health care provider will suggest getting it before you go to high school or before you go to college or into the military service.


Other people who should get vaccinated are those who plan to travel to places where meningococcal disease is common (such as certain regions of Africa), people who may have come in contact with meningitis, anyone who has a disorder of their immune system, anyone whose spleen has been damaged or had surgery to remove it, and people who study this disease in a lab.


Will I need to get a booster meningococcal vaccine?

People who are at increased risk for meningococcal disease should receive a second vaccination 5 years after their previous meningococcal vaccine. People considered to be at increased risk are those with disorders of their immune systems, anyone whose spleen has been damaged or had surgery to remove it, people who study this disease in a lab, or people who travel to or live in countries where meningococcal disease is common. In addition, college freshman living in dormitories who received the MPSV4 vaccine 5 or more years ago should receive a dose of either MCV4 or MenACWY-CRM.


If you have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with meningococcal disease, it is important to tell your health care provider and get treated with antibiotics. This is true even if you have been vaccinated!


Are there any side effects?

Most people who get vaccinated will not have a side effect.


The most common side effects are:

It is very uncommon to have side-effects from vaccines. If you think you might have had a side effect from a vaccine, talk to your health care provider. You can also call 1-800-822-7967 or log on to


Is there any reason why I should wait or not get the meningococcal vaccine?

Most pre-teens and teens get the meningococcal conjugate vaccines without any problems. However, there are some reasons when you should wait or not get it.


You should not get the meningococcal vaccine (MCV4) if you:

You should not get the meningococcal vaccine (MenACWY-CRM) if you:

There is no data yet on pregnancy and the MCV4 shot, but if you are pregnant and at risk of meningococcal disease (such as traveling to Africa) you should get the vaccine.


Is there anything else I should know before I get the MCV4?

Yes. It’s a good idea to ask your health care provider about your vaccine history.


Questions to ask may include:

  1. Are there any reasons why I shouldn’t get the meningococcal vaccine (MCV4 or MenACWY-CRM)?
  2. Do I have any known allergies to any medicine or vaccine?
  3. What should I do if I come in contact with someone who has meningococcal

All you need to do is to check with your health care provider to see if your immunizations (vaccines that prevent serious infections) are up-to-date. Getting the vaccine is by far better than taking the chance of being infected with this serious disease.


Additional Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Meningitis FAQ's

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)


Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 6/9/2010


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Knowing About Your Health Before you Go to College

You should talk with your HCP about getting the meningococcal vaccine to reduce your chances of getting the very serious infection meningitis (inflammation of the brain tissue). The vaccine will help to protect you against getting it if an outbreak happens in your dorm...

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