The meningococcal vaccine protects against meningococcal disease, a serious bacterial infection that can lead to bacterial meningitis.
Vaccination is recommended:
- when kids are 11 or 12 years old, with a booster given at age 16
- for kids 13-18 years old who haven't been previously vaccinated
Those who have their first dose between the ages of 13-15 should receive a booster dose between the ages of 16-18. If the first dose is given after age 16 (for example, for previously unvaccinated college freshmen who will be living in a dormitory setting or those entering the military), no booster dose is required.
Some kids are at higher risk for meningococcal disease, including those 2 months to 10 years old who:
- live in or travel to countries where the disease is common
- are present during an outbreak of the disease
- have certain immune disorders. If the immune disorders are chronic, these kids also need a booster dose a few years later, depending on the age at which the first dose is given.
These children should receive a full series of meningococcal vaccines. The sequence and dosage will depend on the child's age.
Why the Vaccine Is Recommended
Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitides. It can cause an infection of the bloodstream or meningitis, or both, and can be life threatening if not promptly treated. The meningococcal vaccine is very effective at protecting against four strains of the meningococcal bacteria.
Some of the most common side effects are swelling, redness, and pain at the site of the injection, along with headache, fever, or fatigue. Severe problems, such as allergic reactions, are rare.
When to Delay or Avoid Immunization
The vaccine is not recommended if:
- your child is currently sick, although simple colds or other minor illnesses should not prevent immunization
- your child has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of meningococcal vaccine, to the DTaP vaccine, or to latex
If your child has a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome (a disease of the nervous system that causes progressive weakness), talk to your doctor about whether the vaccine is a good idea.
Caring for Your Child After Immunization
Your child might experience fever, soreness, and some swelling and redness in the area where the shot was given. Pain and fever may be treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Check with your doctor to see if you can give either medication and to find out the appropriate dose.
A warm, damp cloth or a heating pad also may help reduce soreness. Moving or using the limb that has received the injection often reduces the soreness.
When to Call the Doctor
- Call if you aren't sure if the vaccine should be postponed or avoided.
- Call if there are problems after the immunization.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: February 2015