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Meningococcal Vaccines for Preteens, Teens

Three teenagersTalk with your teen’s clinician about meningococcal vaccination to help protect your child’s health. Meningococcal disease is a very serious illness where death can occur in as little as a few hours.

Meningococcal disease is not very common in the United States, but teens and young adults are at increased risk. The good news is that there are licensed vaccines to help prevent the most common types of meningococcal disease in the United States (serogroups B, C, and Y).

Meningococcal Vaccines Recommended for Preteens and Teens

All 11 to 12 year olds should be vaccinated with a single dose of a quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine. A booster dose is recommended at age 16 so teens continue to have protection during the ages when they are at highest risk of meningococcal disease. This vaccine helps protect against serogroups A, C, W, and Y, but not serogroup B. If your teenager missed getting a dose, ask their clinician about getting it now.

Teens and young adults (16 through 23 year olds) may also be vaccinated with a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, preferably at 16 through 18 years old. Two or three doses of a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine are needed, depending on the brand, and the same brand must be used for all doses. Talk with your teen’s clinician if you are interested in serogroup B meningococcal vaccination.

Helpful Terms

  • Bacteremia: A bloodstream infection
  • Meningitis: An infection of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord
  • Neisseria meningitidis: The bacteria that cause meningococcal disease
  • Quadrivalent: Protects against 4 serogroups; for meningococcal disease those serogroups are A, C, W, and Y
  • Septicemia: A serious bloodstream infection; blood poisoning
  • Serogroup: A group of bacteria that are closely related; there are five serogroups of Neisseria meningitidis that cause most meningococcal disease in the world — A, B, C, W, and Y

Vaccination Side Effects and Risks

About half of the people who get a quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine have mild problems following vaccination, such as redness or pain where the shot was given or a mild fever. A small percentage of people who get the vaccine develop a mild fever. These reactions usually get better on their own within 1 to 2 days, but serious reactions are possible.

Following serogroup B meningococcal vaccination, more than half of the people who get the vaccine will have mild problems:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea or diarrhea

These reactions usually get better on their own within 3 to 7 days, but serious reactions are possible.

Among preteens and teens there is also a risk of fainting after getting these or any shots.

Teenage girl getting vaccinated

Meningococcal conjugate vaccine is routinely recommended for 11 to 12 year olds. A booster dose is needed at age 16.

Meningococcal Disease and Symptoms

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

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.

Treatment, and Complications

Early diagnosis and treatment are very important. Meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics (medicines that kill bacteria in the body). 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.

Meningococcal Disease Spreads from Person to Person

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. Fortunately, these bacteria are not as contagious as germs that cause the common cold or flu. The bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by simply breathing the air where a person with meningococcal disease has been.

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.

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.