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Your Child's Immunizations: Meningococcal Vaccines

Article Translations: (Spanish)

The meningococcal vaccines protect against meningococcal disease, a serious bacterial infection that can lead to bacterial meningitis.

Two kinds of meningococcal vaccines are currently given to kids in the United States.

  • The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) protects against four types of meningococcal bacteria (called types A, C, W, and Y). It is recommended for all kids. 
  • The meningococcal B vaccine (MenB) protects against a fifth type of meningococcal bacterium (called type B). It is relatively new and not yet recommended as a routine vaccination for healthy people, but it may be given to teens and young adults at the discretion of their doctor. It is recommended for certain children and teens who are at increased risk of developing meningococcal disease.

Immunization Schedule

Vaccination with MCV4 is recommended:

  • when kids are 11 or 12 years old, with a booster given at age 16
  • for teens 13–18 years old who haven't been previously vaccinated

Those who have their first dose between the ages of 13-15 should receive a booster dose between the ages of 16-18. If the first dose is given after age 16 (for example, for previously unvaccinated college freshmen who will be living in a dormitory setting or those entering the military), no booster dose is required.

The MenB vaccine may be considered for all teens and young adults (ages 16 through 23). The preferred age for vaccination is 16–18 years old. Two or three doses are needed depending on the brand. The decision to receive this vaccine should be made by the teen, together with his or her parents and doctor.

Some kids are at higher risk for meningococcal disease, including those who:

  • live in or travel to countries where the disease is common
  • are present during an outbreak of the disease
  • have certain immune disorders. If the immune disorders are chronic, these kids also need a booster dose a few years later, depending on the age at which the first dose is given.

Children aged 2 months to 10 years with these risk factors should receive a full series of the MCV4 vaccines. The sequence and dosage will depend on the child's age.

Children 10 years and up with these risk factors should receive a full series of the MenB vaccines.

Why the Vaccines Are Recommended

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitides. It can cause an infection of the bloodstream or meningitis, or both, and can be life threatening if not promptly treated. The MCV4 vaccine is very effective at protecting against four strains of the meningococcal bacteria, while the MenB vaccine protects against a fifth strain.

Possible Risks

Some of the most common side effects are swelling, redness, and pain at the site of the injection, along with headache, fever, or fatigue. Severe problems, such as allergic reactions, are rare.

When to Delay or Avoid Immunization

The vaccine is not recommended if:

  • your child is currently sick, although simple colds or other minor illnesses should not prevent immunization
  • your child has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of meningococcal vaccine, to the DTaP vaccine, or to latex

If your child has a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome (a disease of the nervous system that causes progressive weakness), talk to your doctor about whether the vaccines are a good idea.

Caring for Your Child After Immunization

Your child might experience fever, soreness, and some swelling and redness in the area where the shot was given. Pain and fever may be treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Check with your doctor to see if you can give either medication and to find out the appropriate dose.

A warm, damp cloth or a heating pad also may help reduce soreness. Moving or using the limb that has received the injection often reduces the soreness.

When to Call the Doctor

  • Call if you aren't sure if the vaccine should be postponed or avoided.
  • Call if there are problems after the immunization.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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