What most people call the “meningitis vaccine” is actually a vaccine against meningococcal disease, which can include meningitis but also other diseases like pneumonia.
The meningitis vaccine has become routine for college students who will be living in close quarters in dormitories where the disease spreads easily.
In recent years, several college campuses have begun recommending Meningitis B vaccines for incoming students. This helps reduce the risk of infection in outbreaks, which are becoming more common.
Meningococcal disease is caused by several types of meningococcal bacteria. Up to 25% of people carry this bacteria in their mouth and throat without feeling sick.
It spreads to other people through close contact, kissing, coughing, or sharing utensils, and sometimes causes a serious infection of the brain and spinal cord known as meningitis.
Meningococcal meningitis is a very serious infection that is deadly in 10-15% of people. One in five survivors are left with a permanent disability, such as hearing loss, brain damage, amputation, or organ damage. The best way to prevent meningococcal meningitis is with the vaccine.
In the United States, there are six vaccines against meningococcal disease: MPSV4 (Menomune), MCV4 (Menactra, MenHibrix, and Menveo) and MenB (Trumenba and Bexsero). These vaccines protect against different types of meningococcal bacteria (A, C, W, Y, and B).
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends two doses of the meningitis vaccine for teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 years old, with the first dose at 11 or 12 years old and a booster at age 16.
Some teenagers may also need a MenB vaccine. This type of meningitis vaccine is not routinely recommended, but it may be beneficial for high-risk individuals, including college students.
Since the introduction of routine meningitis vaccination, the rate of meningococcal meningitis has dropped dramatically in the United States. Fewer than 700 cases were reported every year since 2010.