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Meningococcal Vaccine

By William D. Surkis, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, Jefferson Medical College; Director, Internal Medicine Residency Program, Lankenau Medical Center
Jerome Santoro, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, Jefferson Medical College; Chief, Department of Medicine, Lankenau Medical Center

For more information, see the Meningococcal vaccine information statement.

The meningococcal vaccine protects against infections caused by the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis, which can lead to meningitis, dangerously low blood pressure (shock), and death. These bacteria are the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children and the second leading cause of bacterial meningitis in adults. The infection can cause the following symptoms:

  • Initially, fever, nausea, headache, and leg pain

  • Later, a rash, decreased blood pressure, and cold hands and feet

  • Progression from feeling well to being very sick within hours

  • Shock and death


The meningococcal vaccine is given in one dose as an injection under the skin or into a muscle. Three formulations are available in the United States:

  • The polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4) is used only in people over age 55.

  • The conjugate vaccine (MCV4) is preferred for people aged 9 months to 55 years.

  • A new vaccine (meningococcal group B vaccine) is available to prevent infection by one type of meningitis bacteria that has become common in outbreaks among college students.

The meningococcal vaccine is recommended for all children at age 11 to 12 years, with a booster at age 16 years.

The vaccine is also recommended for younger children who are at increased risk of meningococcal infection, such as those without a functioning spleen and those with certain immunodeficiency disorders. The minimum age for the vaccine varies from 6 weeks to 9 months, depending on the formulation used.

The meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for the following:

  • People who do not have a functioning spleen

  • People with certain immunodeficiency disorders

  • Microbiologists who are routinely exposed to the bacteria

  • Adolescents entering high school if they have not already been vaccinated

  • All first-year college students who live in dormitories and are aged 21 or under if they have not already been vaccinated

  • All military recruits if they have not already been vaccinated

  • Travelers to areas where the disease is common

Side Effects

The injection site may become sore, swollen, and red. Some people have headaches and feel tired. A few people have a fever.

Whether meningococcal vaccine increases the risk of developing Guillain-Barré syndrome, a progressive nerve disorder, is unclear. However, this rare syndrome developed in a few people after they were vaccinated with the conjugate vaccine. Thus, this vaccine should not be given to people who have had this syndrome unless their risk of getting a meningococcal infection is increased.