Vaccines have dramatically reduced the incidence of both bacterial and viral meningitis. There are several types of vaccine, and each type is given at a different age and protects against a different type of meningitis.

Meningitis is a condition that causes inflammation in the meninges, which are the membranous coverings that protect the brain and spinal cord. It is most often due to bacteria or a virus.

Bacterial meningitis is particularly dangerous. It can cause permanent disabilities, such as hearing loss or brain damage, or lead to death within a matter of hours. It is especially dangerous to infants and young children.

Keep reading to learn more about scheduling for different meningitis vaccines, the benefits of these vaccines, the risks of meningitis, and why vaccination is important.

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There are different types of meningitis vaccine that doctors will administer at different ages. Vaccines protect against bacterial meningitis and some forms of viral meningitis.

Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine

Before a vaccine became available for it, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis. Hib is much less common today due to vaccinations.

Doctors usually administer the Hib vaccine at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. They will administer it again between the ages of 12 and 15 months.

The dosing regimen depends on the brand of vaccine an infant receives.

Doctors will give this vaccine either alone or as part of a combination vaccine.

Pneumococcal vaccine

Pneumococcus bacteria can cause meningitis and other serious infections, such as pneumonia.

Initial vaccination occurs at 2, 4, and 6 months of age, and an infant will receive another dose between the ages of 12 and 15 months.

Meningococcal vaccine

The most common meningococcal vaccine is the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which is known as MCV4 or MenACWY.

This vaccine series usually starts at the age of 11 years. However, children with certain conditions may receive it earlier.

A booster dose will follow at age 16 years.

There are currently two types of meningococcal vaccine available in the United States:

  • meningococcal conjugate, or MenACWY, vaccines (Menactra and Menveo)
  • serogroup B meningococcal, or MenB, vaccines (Bexsero and Trumenba)

The recommendation is that teenagers and young adults aged 16–23 years also receive the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, especially if they fit into a high risk category.

MMR vaccine

This vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Before this vaccine was available, mumps was a common cause of viral meningitis. Measles is also a cause of meningitis.

Doctors typically administer this vaccine when an infant is 12–15 months of age and again when they are 4–6 years of age.

Meningitis rates are at an all-time low in the U.S., and they have been declining since the 1990s due to vaccinations.

Since 2005, which was when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that preteens and teenagers get a MenACWY vaccine, meningitis in certain groups of teenagers has decreased by over 90%.

Experts believe that MenACWY and MenB vaccines provide protection to people who have been vaccinated but do not protect the larger, unvaccinated community through herd immunity.

This is why vaccination is essential for the prevention of meningitis.

There are numerous types of meningitis. The sections below will look at some of these types in more detail.

Bacterial meningitis

This is the most dangerous form of meningitis. The bacteria that cause it are contagious and can be fatal.

Bacterial meningitis requires immediate medical attention, and vaccines can protect against some types.

Viral meningitis

This occurs due to a virus and is often less severe than bacterial meningitis.

People with properly functioning immune systems will usually recuperate on their own, while others may require medical attention. Vaccines prevent some types of viral meningitis.

Fungal meningitis

This occurs through the inhalation of fungal spores. People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of contracting it.

It is not contagious and is usually treatable with antifungal medications.

Parasitic meningitis

Various parasites can cause meningitis. Parasitic meningitis is much less common than viral and bacterial meningitis, and it is not generally contagious.

People usually contract it by eating infected animals or contaminated foods.

Primary amebic meningitis

This is a rare and damaging infection of the brain. The cause is a microscopic ameba called Naegleria fowleri, which lives in warm water and soil.

It is not contagious, and people usually contract it when swimming in water containing the ameba.

According to the CDC, most people who receive a meningitis vaccine do not experience any serious side effects. The side effects that are linked to these vaccines are usually mild and should go away within a few days.

However, serious reactions are possible. It is important to inform a child’s doctor if they are experiencing any side effects related to the vaccine.

MenACWY vaccines are associated with mild problems that can last for 1–2 days. They may include:

MenB vaccines are associated with mild problems that can last for 3–5 days. They may include:

  • flushing, swelling, and pain at the injection site
  • headache
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • fever or chills
  • fatigue

Vaccines are essential to protect against meningitis. Infants and young children are especially at risk of the condition, as their immune systems are not fully developed and able to fight it off.

Although viral meningitis is rarely life threatening, it can still make infants and young children very ill. Most will make a good recovery, but it can take a long time for them to fully overcome the illness.

Bacterial meningitis can be fatal, so it requires immediate medical attention. For more than 80% of children who die as a result of this type of meningitis, death occurs within 24 hours of diagnosis.

Around 10% of affected children die, and some are left with lifelong disabilities.

The most common types of meningitis are bacterial and viral. Although people tend to recover from viral meningitis, bacterial meningitis can be deadly, especially to infants and young children.

There are several types of meningitis, but only viral and bacterial meningitis can spread easily from person to person.

The scheduling of the various types of vaccine will depend on the type a person receives, but most vaccinations occur when an infant is 2–6 months of age and 12–15 months of age. This tends to be followed by another at 11 years old and a booster at 16 years old.

Side effects linked to the vaccines are usually mild and tend to go away within a few days.

Herd immunity is unlikely to prevent meningitis, so it is essential that people get vaccinated and have their children vaccinated.

Meningitis can cause death or lifelong disabilities.