Healthy Living

Facts About Meningitis Vaccines

Facts About Meningitis Vaccines

Introduction

The only way to prevent serious and life-threatening diseases such as meningitis is through vaccination. Meningitis can also be caused by viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. The infection usually affects the meninges or membranes that enclose the brain and spinal cord. Although meningitis is a rare infection, anyone at any age can catch it.

The infection can also quickly develop and lead to death within hours. When patients survive, they can be left with permanent disabilities, such as brain damage and deafness. The good news is that there are current vaccines are available to help prevent some types of meningitis. 

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines work by helping your body’s immune system fight certain types of infection. They usually contain harmless viral or bacterial components called antigens that can cause diseases.

In a virus vaccine, a weakened version of the virus, which cannot cause serious infections, is used to help trigger an immune response. When a vaccine is injected into the human body, the immune system responds by producing antibodies against these antigens. 

When you encounter the specific germ after being vaccinated, your body will be able to recognize and fight it. However, protection against other types of infection requires different types of vaccines. Other vaccines are even given more than once to help boost your immunity. Although vaccines can help protect people against meningococcal disease, they cannot prevent all cases of meningitis. 

What is meningococcal disease?

Meningococcal disease is a type of bacterial infection. Although this disease can cause people to develop serious infections, such as septicemia and meningitis, others also become carriers or those who have the germs but do not get sick. Meningococcal bacteria usually spread through direct and ongoing contact with an infected person.

The following are some of the common symptoms of meningococcal meningitis:

  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Light sensitivity
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures (fits)

When it comes to meningococcal septicemia, which causes bleeding into the organs and skin, the common symptoms include:

Who should get meningitis vaccines?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all preteens and teens should be vaccinated using the meningococcal conjugate vaccine. However, adults and children can also get meningococcal vaccines in certain cases. It is recommended to speak with your healthcare provider to know which vaccine is best for your situation. 

People who have an increased risk for meningococcal disease should also receive meningococcal vaccines. They include:

  • People who live in places where they tend to be in close contact such as college dormitories
  • Those who are HIV-positive
  • People who travel to sub-Saharan African regions, where the incidence of meningitis is very high

Infants and Children

For babies and infants from 2 months to 10 years old, the CDC recommends the vaccination of a meningococcal conjugate vaccine (Menveo or Menactra) if they have any of the following:

  • Damaged spleen or when their spleen has been taken out
  • Complement component deficiency
  • Taking a type of medication called eculizumab (Soliris)
  • Tested positive with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Living or traveling to countries with frequent epidemics of meningococcal meningitis
  • Belong to a population, which is known to be at increased risk due to an outbreak of serogroup A, C, W, or Y meningococcal disease

Talk to your healthcare provider to know more information about your child’s booster shots. 

For children who are 10 years old and above, the CDC recommends the vaccination of serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (Trumenba or Bexsero) if they have any of the following:

  • Damaged spleen or when their spleen has been taken out
  • Complement component deficiency
  • Taking a type of medication called eculizumab (Soliris)
  • Belong to a population, which is known to be at increased risk due to an outbreak of serogroup B meningococcal disease

Preteens and Teens

Vaccination for preteens and teens have two types:

  • Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccines (Menveo, Menactra): Given to 11 to 12-year-old preteens with a booster dose when they turn 16.
  • Serogroup B Meningococcal Vaccines (Trumenba, Bexsero): Given to all teens, particularly at 16-18 years old. 

Aside from the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, some preteens and teens should receive serogroup B meningococcal vaccine if they have any of the following:

  • Damaged spleen or when their spleen has been taken out
  • Complement component deficiency
  • Taking a type of medication called eculizumab (Soliris)
  • Belong to a population, which is known to be at increased risk due to an outbreak of serogroup B meningococcal disease

Adults

Adults should be given a meningococcal conjugate vaccine (Menveo or Menactra) if they have any of the following:

  • Damaged spleen or when their spleen has been taken out
  • Taking a type of medication called eculizumab (Soliris)
  • Tested positive with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Living or traveling to countries with frequent epidemics of meningococcal meningitis
  • Belong to a population, which is known to be at increased risk due to an outbreak of serogroup A, C, W, or Y meningococcal disease
  • Complement component deficiency
  • Have an outdated meningococcal vaccination and live in a college dormitory
  • A military recruit
  • A clinical microbiologist who routinely works with Neisseria meningitidis isolates

Adults should be given a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (Trumenba or Bexsero) if they have any of the following:

  • Complement component deficiency
  • Taking a type of medication called eculizumab (Soliris)
  • Damaged spleen or when their spleen has been taken out
  • Belong to a population, which is known to be at increased risk due to an outbreak of serogroup B meningococcal disease
  • A clinical microbiologist who routinely works with Neisseria meningitidis isolates

Who should not get meningitis vaccines? 

There are some people who should not receive any type of vaccination or require a waiting period before getting vaccinated due to age or medical conditions.

People with severe allergies or have had life-threatening allergic reactions after getting a meningococcal vaccine should never be vaccinated again with the same vaccine.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should only receive meningococcal conjugate vaccines of they have an increased risk for serogroup A, C, W, or Y meningococcal disease. Moreover, they should only be given serogroup B meningococcal vaccines if they have an increased risk for serogroup B meningococcal disease and are aware of the pros and cons of getting the vaccine.

People who are scheduled for a vaccination but do not feel well or have a moderate to severe illness should probably wait for some time until they recover. 

Types of Meningococcal Vaccines

In the United States, two types of meningococcal vaccines are available. They are:

1. Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccines

  • Menveo: This vaccine is given in two doses to preteens, teens, and certain people who have an increased risk of meningococcal disease. It offers protection against serogroups A, C, W, and Y, which are the four types of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. 
  • Menactra: This vaccine is given in two doses to preteens, teens, and certain people who have an increased risk of meningococcal disease. It offers protection against serogroups A, C, W, and Y, which are the four types of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. 

2. Serogroup B (Recombinant) Meningococcal Vaccines

  • Trumenba: This vaccine is given in a series of two doses to people who are 16-23 years old, who do not have an increased risk of meningococcal disease. However, this vaccine is given in a series of three doses to children who are 10 years old and above and who have an increased risk of meningococcal disease. It offers protection against serogroup B, which is a type of bacteria that causes meningococcal disease. 
  • Bexsero: This vaccine is given in a series of two doses to people who are 16-23 years old, who do not have an increased risk of meningococcal disease. However, this vaccine is given in a series of three doses to children who are 10 years old and above and who have an increased risk of meningococcal disease. It offers protection against serogroup B, which is a type of bacteria that causes meningococcal disease. 

Possible Side Effects of Meningococcal Vaccines

In most cases, people who receive meningococcal vaccines do not develop any serious side effects. If they do experience some side effects, they are usually mild and resolve on their own after a few days. However, there are also rare cases of serious reactions. 

The following side effects may be experienced following meningococcal vaccinations:

  • Mild pain and redness at the site of injection
  • Fever
  • Feeling tired
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

Key Takeaways

  • Meningitis is a type of infection that affects the meninges or membranes that enclose the brain and spinal cord. 
  • When patients survive, they can be left with permanent disabilities, such as brain damage and deafness.
  • The only way to prevent serious and life-threatening diseases such as meningitis is through vaccination. Although vaccines can help protect people against meningococcal disease, they cannot prevent all cases of meningitis.