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Preteens, Teens Need Meningococcal Vaccine

Three teenagersMake sure your preteen and teen get the meningococcal conjugate vaccine for protection against meningococcal disease, a very serious illness where death can occur in as little as a few hours. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended at 11-12 years of age and a booster dose at age 16.

Meningococcal disease is not very common in the United States, but can be devastating and often—and unexpectedly—strikes otherwise healthy people. The good news is that there are licensed vaccines to help prevent the most common serogroups ("strains") of meningococcal disease in the United States.

Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine Recommended for All Preteens and Teens

Newly Licensed: Two Serogroup B Meningococcal Vaccines

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently licensed two serogroup B meningococcal vaccines for use in people 10 through 25 years of age. Recommendations for use of serogroup B meningococcal vaccines in adolescents and young adults are currently under consideration by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. 
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Meningococcal conjugate vaccine is routinely recommended for all 11 through 18 year olds. Preteens should get the first dose of this vaccine at their 11–12 year old check-up. Teenagers are recommended to get a booster dose at age 16. If your teenager missed getting a dose, ask the doctor about getting it now. Meningococcal conjugate vaccine protects against several serogroups, including serogroups C and Y, but not serogroup B.

Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine Side Effects and Risks

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine is safe, but side effects can occur. Most side effects are mild or moderate, meaning they do not affect daily activities. The most common side effects in preteens and teens take place where the shot was given (in the arm), which can include:

  • Pain and tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Hardness of the skin
Teenage girl getting vaccinated

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine is routinely recommended at 11–12 years of age. A booster dose is needed at age 16.

Other common side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Feeling a little run down
  • Headache

These reactions usually last a short amount of time and get better on their own within a few days. Among preteens and teens there is also a risk of fainting after getting this or any shot. 

What Is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease refers to any illness that is caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. The two most severe and common illnesses caused by this bacteria include infections of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia).

Early diagnosis and treatment are very important. Meningococcal disease can be treated with a number of effective antibiotics. However, even with antibiotic treatment, 10 to 15 out of 100 people with meningococcal disease will die. About 11 to 19 out of every 100 survivors will have long-term disabilities, such as loss of limb(s), deafness, nervous system problems, or brain damage.

How Is Meningococcal Disease Spread?

The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease are spread from person to person by sharing respiratory secretions (such as saliva, by kissing or coughing) during close or lengthy contact, especially among people who share a room or live in the same household. Although anyone can get meningococcal disease, teens and young adults are at increased risk.

People can "carry" the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease without getting sick. Being a carrier means that the bacteria live in the nose and throat, but do not invade the body and make someone sick. Carriers do not have any symptoms of meningococcal disease. Since the bacteria are most often spread by people who are carriers, most cases of meningococcal disease (97 or 98 out of 100) appear to be random and aren't linked to other cases. However, anyone who is a close contact of a person who has been diagnosed with meningococcal disease is at highest risk for getting the infection. People who qualify as close contacts of a person with meningococcal disease should receive antibiotics to prevent them from getting the disease. This is known as prophylaxis (pro-fuh-lak-sis).

Meningococcal outbreaks can occur in communities, schools, colleges, prisons, and other populations. Very few (2 or 3 out of 100) cases occur as part of an outbreak.

Symptoms of Meningococcal Disease

Symptoms of meningococcal disease may include sudden onset of a high fever, headache, or stiff neck. It can start with symptoms similar to influenza (flu), and will often also cause nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, rash, and confusion. If you think you or your child has any of these symptoms, call the doctor right away.