Questions & Answers
Meningococcal - The Vaccine
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  1. What kind of vaccine is given to prevent meningococcal disease?

    Yes. The first meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine in the United States was licensed in 1974 and was effective against one of the five major types (monovalent) of meningococcus. The current quadrivalent polysaccharide vaccine (Menomune or MPSV4)) was licensed in 1978.

    A new meningococcal polysaccharide conjugate vaccine (Menactra or MCV4) was licensed in January 2005. Both vaccines licensed in the U.S. provide protection against the types - A, C, Y, and W-135

    To date, no vaccine protects against subtype B which cause nearly a quarter of the meningococcal disease cases in the United States.

  2. Who should get meningococcal vaccine?

    Immunization is recommended for the following groups:

    • U.S. military basic trainees.
    • All children at their preadolescent visit (11 to12 years old). For those never receiving MCV4 previously, a dose at high school entry is recommended.
    • College freshman living in dormitories.
    • Individuals with a damaged spleen, or whose spleen has been removed.
    • Anyone who has a terminal complement deficiency (an immune disorder)
    • Those working with meningococcal bacteria in laboratories.
    • Anyone traveling to, or living in, a part of the world where meningococcal disease is common, such as parts of Africa.
    • People who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak.

  3. What side effects have been reported with this vaccine?
    Both of the currently licensed meningococcal vaccines showed similar side effects during clinical trials. The most common adverse reactions after immunization with Menomune and Menactra are injection site symptoms such as pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site. A small percentage of people whio receive the vaccine develop fever. Serious allergic reactions, occurring within a few minutes to a few hours after immunization, are very rare.

    A few cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a serious nervous system disorder, have been reported among people who received MCV4. There is not enough evidence yet to determine whether they were caused by the vaccine. The number of cases does not seem to be higher than what would naturally result from other causes of GBS. This is being further investigated by health officials.

  4. How effective is this vaccine?
    Both meningococcal vaccines are 85% to100% effective in preventing infection from four types of meningococcal disease (A, C, Y, and W-135). Menomune is not effective in children younger than two years of age. Safety and effectiveness of Menactra has not yet been established for those outside the age range of 11 to 55 years old. MCV4 is the preferred vaccine for people 11 to 55 years old, but MPSV4 can be used if MCV4 is not available. MPSV4 should be used for children 2 to 10 years old and in adults older than 55 who are at risk.

  5. What are the vaccine's ingredients?
    The polysaccharide vaccine (Menomune) is made from the purified, sugar-coated outer capsule of the meningococcal bacteria. The polysaccharide conjugate vaccine (Menactra) is also made in this way but is then chemically linked to a purified protein to increase the body's immune response to the vaccine. The vaccine does not contain live bacteria.


  1. How is this vaccine given?
    Menomune is injected subcutaneously (under the skin) as a single 0.5mL dose. Booster doses are recommended after 3 to 5 years for those traveling to endemic areas, people without spleens and certain immune-compromised individuals. Menactra is injected intramuscularly as a single 0.5ml dose. The need for a booster dose has not yet been determined.

  2. How many doses of meningococcal vaccine are needed?
    Usually, only one dose is needed. Sometimes an additional dose is recommended for people who remain at high risk (ask your provider). With Menomune, revaccination after three to five years may be needed for people who continue to be at high risk of infection.

    While not generally recommended, MPSV4 may be recommended for children 3 months to 2 years old under special circumstances. These children should receive 2 doses, 3 months apart.

  3. Can the vaccine cause meningococcal disease?
    No. It does not contain live bacteria.

  4. Should college students be vaccinated against meningococcal disease?
    College freshmen who live in, or plan to live in, dormitories should consider receiving the vaccine. Some schools now require incoming freshmen to be immunized. The vaccine may be available from the college health service.

  5. How long does the meningococcal vaccine last?
    With Menomune, revaccination after three to five years may be needed for people who continue to be at high risk of infection.


  1. Who should NOT receive this vaccine?
    Those who should not receive meningococcal vaccine are people who have had serious allergic reactions to previous doses of the vaccine or to one of its components, and people who are moderately or severely ill (although the vaccine can be given when their symptoms improve). Menactra is contraindicated for those who have a latex allergy (latex is used in the vial stopper of the Menactra vaccine).

  2. What about pregnant or breastfeeding women?

    Pregnant or breastfeeding women may receive the vaccine if they are in a group for whom the vaccine is indicated.