Having a meningitis vaccine is safe and includes minimal side effects or risks. However, there may be situations where a person should not get it or delay their vaccination.

The meningitis vaccine protects a person against infections that can cause life threatening diseases or permanent disability.

According to the National Meningitis Association (NMA), around 600–1,000 in the United States people contract meningococcal disease, which is a type of bacterial meningitis, each year, and 10–15% of these people die as a result.

According to the NMA, the number of people with meningococcal disease has dropped significantly over the years because more people have had meningitis vaccines. Despite this, 1 in 5 teens in the U.S. remains unprotected.

This article explores the meningitis vaccine, who it is for, and its risks and possible side effects.

Learn more about the meningitis vaccine here.

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The meningococcal vaccine, also called the meningitis vaccine, protects against the Neisseria meningitides bacteria. This bacteria has six types: A, B, C, W, X, and Y. Serogroups are another name for these subgroups.

When bacteria invade the body, they can infect the bloodstream and cause sepsis. It can also infect the meninges, the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord, causing meningitis.

Meningococcal meningitis is a severe and life threatening condition that can cause death within hours. Other types of meningitis can still cause adverse health outcomes but may be much less severe.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 1 in 10 people with bacterial meningitis die, while 1 in 5 people have long-term complications, including hearing loss and intellectual disabilities.

Two types of meningitis vaccines are available in the U.S.: Meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) and Meningococcal B (MenB). The former vaccine protects against meningococcal bacteria types A, C, W, and Y. The latter protects against meningococcal bacteria type B.

Both vaccinations effectively protect people against the different strains of the bacteria causing meningitis.

While anyone can get meningococcal disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that babies under 1 year and people aged 16—23 years are most likely to contract it.

Learn about the effects of meningitis here.

Like any medication, meningitis vaccines may cause side effects. However, they are typically mild and are usually gone within a couple of days.

Mild side effects include:

Although some people may experience pain at the injection site or even faint after a vaccination, serious side effects, such as severe allergic reactions, serious injury, or death, are extremely rare.

While there are reports that the vaccine may cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), two extensive studies found that it was coincidental and that there is no link between the Meningococcal conjugate vaccine and GBS.

Learn more about common side effects of vaccinations here.

According to the CDC, people with certain health conditions should not have certain vaccination or wait until their doctor advises them it is safe to do so. These include those who:

  • had a life threatening reaction to a previous meningitis vaccination dose
  • have a severe allergy to any ingredient in the vaccine
  • have moderate-to-severe illness
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding

People with mild illnesses, such as a cold, can have the vaccination. Similarly, pregnant or breastfeeding people at an increased risk of having meningococcal disease may get these vaccines.

Learn about the possible long-term effects of meningitis here.

The CDC recommends that people have a vaccination against meningitis. Guidelines suggest that all children receive the MenACWY vaccine at 11–12 and the booster at 16. The preferred age to have the MenB vaccine is between 16–18, but people up to 23 years can also benefit from vaccination.

However, everyone at higher risk of contracting meningococcal disease should get the vaccine. These include people who:

  • have complement component deficiency, a rare immune disorder
  • are taking complement inhibitors, such as Ultomiris
  • have a damaged spleen or removed spleen
  • have sickle cell disease
  • have HIV
  • live in an area with a high burden of disease, such as sub-Saharan Africa
  • will travel to countries where the disease is common or has a meningococcal disease outbreak

Learn more about getting meningitis here.

Babies and children

Infants as young as 2 months old can have the vaccination if they are at risk of getting the disease. Specifically, they may receive the MenACWY vaccine between 2 months and 10 years old and the MenB vaccine for children 10 years and older.

Parents and caregivers of babies and children may consider talking with their doctors to discuss when and if the vaccination is appropriate.

Learn more about meningitis in newborns here.

Preteens & teens

Healthcare experts recommend the MenACWY vaccine for preteens ages 11–12, a booster when they turn 16, and teens ages 11–18 if they are not vaccinated.

Learn more about meningitis in children here.

Adults

Aside from the reasons mentioned above, certain conditions place adults at a higher risk of contracting meningococcal disease. These include being:

  • a microbiologist exposed to the bacteria
  • not up to date with their vaccinations
  • a first-year college student who will live in a residence hall
  • a military recruit

Learn more about meningitis in adults here.

A person may get the vaccine from local health centers, pharmacies, community health clinics, private clinics, health departments, and community locations, such as schools and religious centers.

Under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance Marketplace plans and most private insurance plans cover the meningococcal vaccine, as well as several other vaccines.

Learn more about the Affordable Care Act here.

Meningitis and bloodstream infection are severe conditions that may cause lifelong disability or death.

Vaccinations offer protection, especially in individuals at an increased risk of getting the disease.

The meningitis vaccine has very few side effects. Anyone who thinks they might be at high risk of getting the disease should consult their doctors about getting a vaccine for themselves or their children.