Meningococcal Vaccine
all information

Meningococcal Vaccine

En Español (Spanish Version)

What Is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease is a serious illness caused by a bacterial infection. In the United States, it is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children ages 2-18 years. Bacterial meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. It can cause death within hours, so quick diagnosis and treatment are vital.

The disease is usually spread by direct contact with discharge from the mouth or throat of an infected person (eg, kissing). In general, it is not spread by casual contact.

Meningococcal disease is most common in infants younger than one year of age and people with certain medical conditions (eg, lack of spleen). College freshmen who live in dormitories also have an increased risk of developing meningococcal disease.

It is estimated that about 2,600 people in the United States develop meningococcal disease each year. Approximately 10%-15% of these people die, and another 11%-19% lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have nervous system problems, become mentally retarded, or suffer seizures or strokes.

Symptoms of meningitis include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Very stiff, sore neck
  • Red or purple skin rash
  • Cyanosis (bluish skin color)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to bright lights)
  • Sleepiness
  • Mental confusion

Symptoms in newborn and infants can be hard to distinguish. These may include:

  • Inactivity
  • Unexplained high fever or low body temperature
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice
  • Feeding poorly or refusing to eat
  • Tautness or bulging of soft spots between skull bones
  • Difficulty awakening

When treatment is provided immediately, more than 90% of all people with bacterial meningitis survive. Treatment may include antibiotics, corticosteroids, and fluid replacement.

What Is the Meningococcal Vaccine?

There are two meningococcal vaccines available in the United States: the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) and the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4).

Both vaccines are made from parts of the meningococcal bacteria, and neither contains live bacteria. The MPSV4 injection is given by injection under the skin, and the MCV4 vaccine is given by injection into the muscle. Both vaccines should be refrigerated prior to administration.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

The MCV4 vaccine is recommended for all children at their routine pre-adolescent visit (11-12 years of age). In addition, for adolescents entering high school who have never gotten MCV4, a dose is recommended before high school entry. The vaccine is also recommended for people at increased risk for meningococcal disease, including:

  • College freshmen living in dormitories
  • Scientists routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
  • United States military recruits
  • People traveling to or living in parts of the world where meningococcal disease is common (eg, parts of Africa)
  • People with a damaged or removed spleen
  • People with immune system disorders
  • People who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak

Those aged two years and older should get one dose of the vaccine.

The MCV4 vaccine is preferred for children 2-10 years old who are in high-risk group. MCV4 is recommended if the person received MPSV4 at least three years before and remains at increased risk for infection.*

MCV4 is the preferred vaccine for people 11-55 years of age, but MPSV4 can be used if MCV4 is not available.

What Are the Risks Associated With the Meningococcal Vaccine?

The meningococcal vaccine, like all vaccines, has the potential to cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. But the risk of meningococcal vaccine causing serious harm or death is extremely small.

Mild problems associated with the meningococcal vaccine include redness or pain at the injection site or a fever. Rarely, people who have received the MCV4 vaccine have developed a serious nervous system disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

People who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of a meningococcal vaccine or any of the components of the vaccine to be given should not receive the vaccination.

People who are moderately or severely ill should wait until they recover to receive the vaccine.

Finally, people who have ever had Guillain-Barre syndrome should talk with their doctor before getting the MCV4 vaccine.

Meningococcal vaccines may be given to pregnant women. But, the MCV4 vaccine has not been extensively studied in pregnant women, so it should be used only if it is clearly needed.

What Other Ways Can Meningococcal Disease Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

Preventive antibiotics may be given to healthcare workers or family members in close contact with people infected with meningococcal disease.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

In the event of a meningococcal disease outbreak, close contacts of infected people and people who are at increased risk of developing meningococcal disease should receive a meningococcal vaccine if they are eligible for it. In addition, antibiotics may be recommended for close contacts of infected people.


Immunization Initiatives
American Academy of Pediatrics

National Immunization Program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Immunization Action Coalition website. Available at: Accessed February 6, 2007.

Meningitis CIB. Immunization Action Coalition website. Available at: Accessed February 6, 2007.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Accessed February 6, 2007.

*Updated Who Should Get Vaccinated and When section on 1/31/2008 according to the following study, as cited by DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0-18 years—United States, 2008. MMWR. 2008;57;Q1-Q4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR website. Available at: Updated January 10, 2008. Accessed January 28, 2008.

Last reviewed February 2008 by David Horn, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Your Health and Happiness