When to get vaccinations against bacterial causes of meningitis

Meningitis is a disease that's defined by inflammation in membranes — called meninges — near your brain and spinal cord. Data is limited, but current research suggests that the MenACWY vaccine becomes unreliable for protection after five years and the MenB vaccine after only one or two years.
Meningitis is a disease that's defined by inflammation in membranes — called meninges — near your brain and spinal cord. Data is limited, but current research suggests that the MenACWY vaccine becomes unreliable for protection after five years and the MenB vaccine after only one or two years.

Meningitis is a disease that’s defined by inflammation in membranes — called meninges — near your brain and spinal cord. It can have several different causes including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and some chemicals. 

Different vaccines can protect you from the different causes of meningitis. Each has its own schedule for when you should receive it. You’ll first get some of these vaccinations as an infant and others as a teenager — or even as an adult. Many require boosters at various points throughout your life — particularly if you’re in a high-risk category for getting meningitis.  

In general, vaccines are most helpful for protecting against bacterial meningitis, which is less common but more severe than viral meningitis. 

Meningococcal vaccines protect against the meningitis-causing bacteria N. meningitidis. Two vaccines are currently approved for use in the U.S. They’re called the MenACWY vaccine and the MenB vaccine.

The MenACWY vaccine is recommended for all young adults around the age of 11 or 12 years old — plus a booster shot at 16 years. Another meningococcal vaccine called MenB is recommended between the ages of 16 to 18. 

A good question to ask is: how long does the meningitis vaccine last? Even though both meningococcal vaccines produce an immune response, they lose effectiveness over time. 

Data is limited, but current research suggests that the MenACWY vaccine becomes unreliable for protection after five years and the MenB vaccine after only one or two years. This means that if enough time has passed, you’ll need to get a new vaccine — especially if you’re in a high-risk category. 

In addition, there are Pneumococcal vaccines that protect against S. pneumonae — another bacteria that can cause meningitis. The most common vaccine for this is PCV13, which is given in four doses at the ages of 2, 4, and 6 months, with the final dose between the ages of 12 and 15 months. If you start the vaccine at an older age then your doctor will need to figure out the best timeline for your doses. 

Healthy adults won’t require another dose of this vaccine. But you should talk to your doctor about getting another pneumococcal vaccine if you’re 65 years or older.   

There are also vaccines for other bacterial causes of meningitis, for example, Haemophilus influenzae serotype B (Hib). These will each have their own administration timelines, so talk to your doctor to find out which bacterial vaccines — and timelines — are right for you and your child.     

When to get vaccinations against viral causes of meningitis

Unfortunately, there isn’t a vaccine for the most common cause of viral meningitis — called non-polio enteroviruses. In rare cases, other kinds of viral infections can lead to meningitis. These viral infections have vaccines that are available in the U.S. They include: 

The vaccinations for these infections all have their own schedule for when you should get them — the most frequent being your yearly flu shot. Measles and mumps vaccinations are first completed around the age of six then need to be updated in adolescence and adulthood. Talk to your doctor to make sure that you’re up-to-date with your vaccinations.  

Who needs to get vaccinated for meningitis? 

It’s especially important for you to keep all of your meningitis vaccinations up-to-date if you fall into a high-risk category for getting the disease. High-risk categories include: 

  • Certain Ages. Infants less than one-year-old and young adults between the ages of 16 and 21 are the most likely to develop meningitis. It’s most important to have all boosters and available vaccinations at these ages. 
  • Crowded Settings. Large group settings — like college campuses — are where outbreaks of meningitis are the most common. Get your vaccines up-to-date before entering into these settings for extended periods of time.
  • Certain underlying conditions. Some underlying medical conditions can increase your chance of getting meningitis. These include HIV and other conditions that weaken your immune system. Not having a spleen also places you at higher risk.
  • Work that involves meningitis-causing agents. Microbiologists and any other researchers that regularly come into contact with the bacteria and viruses that cause meningitis are consistently at risk.
  • Travel to certain areas. Some areas in the world — like sub-Saharan Africa — have higher rates of meningitis and the pathogens that cause it. Check with your doctor before traveling to new parts of the world.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a number of recommendations for the ages and risk categories for the meningococcal, pneumococcal, and other vaccines that help prevent meningitis — among other diseases. This information is specific to each vaccine and can be found in great detail on their website.  

Will you have symptoms from Your meningitis vaccines? 

There are rarely any severe side effects from any meningitis vaccines. In general, vaccines can cause some mild symptoms including: 

Some people may also feel faint after getting a vaccination. It’s best to lie or sit down for at least fifteen minutes after receiving your vaccine. There’s also always a slight chance of having a severe allergic reaction to any medication, including vaccines. 

Tell your doctor or health care provider right away if you feel dizzy, have any vision changes, or hear ringing in your ears shortly after your vaccination. 

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Medically Reviewed on 1/13/2022
References
SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Bacterial Meningitis," "Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know," "Meningococcal Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know," "Pneumococcal Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know."

District of Columbia Department of Health: "Viral Meningitis Fact Sheet."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Bacterial Meningitis."