Your Child's Immunizations: Meningococcal Vaccines

The meningococcal vaccines protect against meningococcal disease, a serious infection that can lead to bacterial meningitis and other serious infections.

Two kinds of meningococcal vaccines are currently given to kids in the United States:

  1. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine protects against four types of meningococcal bacteria (called types A, C, W, and Y). It is recommended for all kids.
  2. The meningococcal B vaccine (MenB) protects against a fifth type of meningococcal bacterium (called type B). It is fairly new and not yet recommended as a routine vaccination for healthy people, but might be given to some kids and teens (ages 16 through 23) who are at increased risk for meningococcal disease.

Immunization Schedule

Vaccination with meningococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended:

  • when kids are 11 or 12 years old, with a booster given at age 16
  • for teens 13–18 years old who haven't been previously vaccinated

Those who have their first dose between the ages of 13–15 should get a booster dose between the ages of 16–18. Teens who get their first dose after age 16 (for example, previously unvaccinated college freshmen who will be living in dorms or those entering the military) won't need a booster dose.

A full series of the meningococcal conjugate vaccines should be given to kids and teens who are at higher risk for meningococcal disease, including those 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.

The sequence and dosage will depend on the child's age, medical condition, and vaccine brand. Some types of meningococcal vaccines can be given as early as 8 weeks of age.

Kids 10 years and older with these risk factors should get a full series of the MenB vaccine. The preferred age range for getting the vaccine is 16–18 years. Two or three doses are needed depending on the brand. The decision to get this vaccine should be made together by the teen, his or her parents, and the doctor.

Why the Vaccines Are Recommended

Meningococcal disease is caused by a type of bacteria. It can lead to an infection of the bloodstream or meningitis, or both, and can be life-threatening if not quickly treated. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine is very effective at protecting against four strains of the bacteria, while the MenB vaccine protects against a fifth strain.

Possible Risks

Some of the most common side effects are swelling, redness, and pain at the site of the injection, along with headache, fever, or tiredness. 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 vaccines are a good idea.

Caring for Your Child After Immunization

Your child might have a fever, soreness, and some swelling and redness in the area where the shot was given. Check with your doctor to see if you can give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain or fever and to find out the appropriate dose.

A warm, damp cloth or a heating pad on the injection site may help reduce soreness, as can moving or using the arm.

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 27, 2018