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Meningococcal Vaccine for Adults

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is the meningococcal vaccine?

The meningococcal vaccine is an injection given to protect you from certain types of meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease is an infection caused by meningococci bacteria. The infection may cause serious disease, such as meningitis. Meningitis causes swelling of the fluid and lining that covers your brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease is spread from person to person through the air. The vaccine begins to protect you 1 to 2 weeks after you get it. The vaccine may protect you for 3 to 5 years.

When should I get the meningococcal vaccine?

The vaccine comes in 2 forms. Your healthcare provider will tell you which kind of meningococcal vaccine you need. He or she will also tell you how many doses you need and when to get each dose. You will need at least 1 dose if you have a low risk for meningococcal disease. You will need 2 or 3 doses if you have a high risk. You will also need a booster dose every 5 years if you continue to have a high risk. Any of the following can increase your risk for meningococcal disease:

  • A condition that causes a weakened immune system
  • A damaged or removed spleen, or sickle cell disease
  • Persistent complement component deficiency (PCCD)
  • Use of eculizumab (Soliris®) or ravulizumab (Ultomiris®)
  • HIV infection
  • Working as a microbiologist who is exposed to meningococcus germs
  • Military service
  • Living in or traveling to areas where meningococcal infection is common
  • Exposure to the infection during an outbreak of the disease
  • Living in student housing if you did not receive the vaccine on or after your 16th birthday

Who should not get the meningococcal vaccine or should wait to get it?

  • You should not get the vaccine if you have had an allergic reaction to the vaccine or any component of the vaccine, such as thimerosal (mercury). Tell your healthcare provider if you have any severe allergies.
  • You should wait to get the vaccine if you are sick or have a fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher.
  • You should talk to your healthcare provider first if you are a pregnant or breastfeeding woman. Your provider will tell you if you should wait to get the vaccine until after you deliver or stop breastfeeding. He or she can talk to you about the possible risks from the vaccine. You may still need to get the vaccine if your risk for meningitis is high.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What are the risks of the meningococcal vaccine?

The most common problems are redness, warmth, swelling, or pain where the shot was given. You may feel tired, or you may get a headache, mild fever, or chills. You may also have muscle or joint pain, or nausea or diarrhea. These symptoms may last up to 7 days. Rarely, you may develop severe shoulder pain that lasts longer than 2 days. Also rarely, you may have a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. This can be life-threatening.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your mouth and throat are swollen.
  • You are wheezing or have trouble breathing.
  • You have chest pain or your heart is beating faster than normal for you.
  • You feel like you are going to faint.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your face is red or swollen.
  • You have hives that spread over your body.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You feel weak or dizzy.
  • You have increased pain, redness, or swelling around the area where the shot was given.
  • You have questions or concerns about the meningococcal vaccine.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.