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Meningococcal Vaccine for Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is the meningococcal vaccine?

The meningococcal vaccine is an injection given to protect your child 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 child's brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease is spread from person to person through the air. The vaccine begins to protect your child 1 to 2 weeks after he or she gets it. The vaccine may protect him or her for 3 to 5 years.

When should my child get the meningococcal vaccine?

The vaccine comes in 2 forms. Your child's healthcare provider will tell you which kind your child should get. He or she will also tell you how many doses your child needs and when to get each dose.

  • Children usually get the first dose at 11 or 12 years. If your child does not get the first dose by age 12, he or she should get it between 13 and 18 years. If the first dose is given between 13 and 15 years, a booster dose is given between 16 and 18 years. The booster will be given at least 8 weeks after the first dose. Your child will not need a booster if he or she gets the first dose between 16 and 18 years. Your child can get the vaccine when he or she is 16 to 23 years old for short-term protection against infection. This works best if your child gets the vaccine by age 18.
  • Children at high risk may need multiple vaccine doses starting as early as 6 weeks old. Ask your child's healthcare provider when your child should get the vaccine. Any of the following can increase your child's 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®)
    • Living in or traveling to areas where meningococcal infection is common
    • Exposure to the infection during an outbreak of the disease
    • HIV infection
    Recommended Meningococcal Immunization Schedule

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

  • Your child should not get the vaccine if he or she has had an allergic reaction to the vaccine or any component of the vaccine, such as thimerosal (mercury). Tell your child's healthcare provider if your child has any severe allergies.
  • Your child should wait to get the vaccine if he or she is sick or has a fever.
  • If your older child is pregnant, ask her healthcare provider before she gets the vaccine. The provider will tell you if she should wait to get the vaccine until after she delivers or stops breastfeeding. He or she can talk to you and your child about the possible risks from the vaccine. She may still need to get the vaccine if her 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. Your child may feel tried, or he or she may get a headache, mild fever, or chills. Your child may also have muscle or joint pain, or nausea or diarrhea. These symptoms may last up to 7 days. Rarely, your child may develop severe shoulder pain that lasts longer than 2 days. Also rarely, your child may have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. This can be life-threatening.

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

  • Your child's mouth and throat are swollen.
  • Your child is wheezing or has trouble breathing.
  • Your child has chest pain or says his or her heart is beating fast.
  • Your child faints.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's face is red or swollen.
  • Your child has hives that spread over his or her body.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child says he or she feels weak or dizzy.
  • Your child has 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 child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.