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Meningococcal Vaccine for Teens

Meningococcal vaccine is a shot to help prevent meningococcal disease. The disease is most common in babies, teens, and young adults. It’s also more common in people who have a very weak immune system, are sexually active with multiple partners (especially men who have sex with men), or are over age 65. The vaccine protects you against the most common types of the disease. 

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is caused by a type of bacteria. It can cause infections of the bloodstream, such as meningitis. Meningitis is a serious infection. It affects the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It can cause death. Even if you take antibiotics, meningitis can cause serious problems. It can cause the loss of fingers and toes, brain damage, seizures, strokes, or deafness.

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine is made from parts of dead meningococcal bacteria. The vaccine helps your body build its defense against future infections. Your defense system includes antibodies. Your body makes these to fight specific infections. This shot helps your body make the right antibodies that fight off meningococcal disease. The vaccine prevents many types of meningococcal infections. You can't become infected with the disease by getting the shot. 

Who should get the vaccine?

Meningococcal vaccine called MenACWY is recommended for all preteens at 11 to 12 years old and all teens at 16 years old.

Teens and young adults age 16 through 23 years may choose to get a MenB vaccine after talking with their healthcare provider.

Healthy younger children and adults usually do not need meningococcal vaccines. However, CDC recommends one or both types of meningococcal vaccines for people who:

  • Have certain health conditions

  • Are traveling to areas where the disease is common

  • Have jobs working with the meningococcal bacteria (like lab workers)

  • Are at increased risk because of a meningococcal disease outbreak

The vaccine is not advised if you:

  • Had a bad reaction before to the meningococcal vaccine

  • Are moderately or severely ill

Types of vaccines

There are 2 types of meningococcal vaccines. Each vaccine protects against different strains of meningococcal disease. Both types of vaccines can be given at the same time. If you get both, your provider may give them in different arms. The vaccines are:

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY). This vaccine helps protect against meningococcal disease types A, C, W, and Y. It is advised for all preteens at 11 to 12 years old and all teens at 16 years old. It Two doses are given as shots. The first dose is given between ages 11 to 12. The second shot is given at age 16. Some teens with certain health risks may need extra doses. For teens not vaccinated with it before, 1 dose may be given between ages 13 to 15. Then a booster is given between ages 16 and 18. Children and adults at increased risk may be advised to get MenACWY.

  • Meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine. MenB helps protect against meningococcal B infections. Teens and young adults may choose to get the MenB vaccine after talking with their healthcare provider about their situation and risk.  The CDC advises MenB for people who are at higher risk because of a meningococcal B outbreak. Outbreaks can happen where people are living close together. Examples are a dorm at college or in military barracks. The MenB vaccine is also advised for teens and young adults who have certain health conditions, such as a weak immune system or no spleen. The best time to get the MenB vaccine is between ages 16 to 18. It may be given up to age 23. People 10 years or older at increased risk may be advised to get MenB.

Risks and possible side effects

The shot has few risks. Side effects are often mild and go away within a few days. They may include:

  • Soreness and swelling at the site of the injection

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Headache

  • Joint pain

  • Fever or chills

  • Rare allergic reactions

You can take over-the-counter pain medicine to ease any pain and swelling after you get the shot.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • High fever

  • Vomiting

  • Tiredness that doesn’t get better

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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