Meningococcal Disease

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About the vaccine

Vaccines that protect against meningococcal infection are the best way to protect your child against this serious and sometimes fatal disease. 

Vaccines are very safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get meningococcal disease.

There are three types of vaccines that protect against either one (Men C or Men B) or four (Men A/C/Y/W-135) sub-types of meningococcal bacteria.

Meningococcal C (Men-C) Vaccine:

The Men-C vaccine is free as part of your child's routine immunizations.  The Men-C vaccine protects against infection from one of the most common types of meningococcal bacteria, type C.  It is given to infants as a series of 2 doses. The first is given at 2 months of age, and the second at 12 months. The vaccine is given at the same time as other childhood immunizations. A booster dose is also given to children in grade 6. In September 2016, this booster dose of meningococcal C vaccine in grade 6 will be replaced with a meningococcal quadrivalent vaccine in grade 9. See below for further information.

Adults born in 1988 or later who have never received the vaccine can also get a dose of the vaccine for free.

The Men-C vaccine is also given to those who have:

  • No spleen, or a spleen that is not working properly
  • An immune system disorder such as complement, properdin and factor D deficiency, or primary antibody deficiency
  • Had a pancreatic islet cell or solid organ transplant, or are waiting for one
  • Had a stem cell transplant

The vaccine may also be given to people after close contact with someone who becomes ill from meningococcal bacteria type C.

For more information about the vaccine, including the benefits, possible reactions after the vaccine and who should not get the vaccine, see the HealthLinkBC File: Meningococcal C Conjugate (Men-C) Vaccine

Meningococcal A/C/Y/W-135

Meningococcal quadrivalent vaccines protect against infection from four of the most common types of meningococcal bacteria - types A/C/Y/W-135.  

There are 2 types of quadrivalent vaccines: A polysaccharide vaccine (Menomune®) and conjugate vaccines (Menactra® and Menveo™).  The conjugate vaccines are more commonly used because they provide longer lasting protection against disease. 

The meningococcal quadrivalent vaccines are not currently part of the publicly funded routine schedule of childhood immunizations in BC. In September 2016, a meningococcal quadrivalent vaccine will be offered to all grade 9 students. This vaccine will replace the current meningococcal C program offered in grade 6 and will provide protection against four strains of meningococcal bacteria, including A, C, Y and W-135 strains.

Some children and adults have health concerns or medical conditions that put them at high risk of getting sick with meningococcal bacteria. The vaccine is provided free to these people, including those who have:

  • No spleen, or a spleen that is not working properly
  • Immune system disorders including complement, properdin or factor D deficiencies, or primary antibody deficiency
  • An islet cell or solid organ transplant, or those who are waiting for one
  • Had a stem cell transplant
  • Been in close contact with a person with meningococcal A, Y or W-135 disease, or who are determined by public health to be at risk of infection with these during an outbreak in BC

The vaccine is also recommended, but not provided free, for the following people:

  • Laboratory workers routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
  • Military personnel
  • Those living or travelling in a high risk area for meningococcal disease

The vaccine is usually given as 1 dose or shot. Sometimes, a second dose may be necessary. Your health care provider can provide you with this information.

People who are not eligible for a free vaccine but want to be protected against meningococcal A, C, Y and W-135 strains of the disease can purchase the quadrivalent vaccine at most travel clinics and pharmacies.

For more information about the vaccine, including the benefits, possible reactions after the vaccine and who should not get the vaccine, see the HealthLinkBC File: Meningococcal Quadrivalent Vaccines

Meningococcal B (Men-B) Vaccine:

The Men-B vaccine protects against infection by one of the most common types of meningococcal bacteria, type B.  This vaccine is not part of the publicly funded routine schedule of immunizations in BC.

In BC, the Men-B vaccine is provided free to those 2 months to 55 years of age who have been in close contact with a case of meningococcal B disease.

The Men-B vaccine is recommended, but not provided free, for those who are at risk of meningococcal B infection due to certain medical conditions including:

  • No spleen or a spleen that is not working properly
  • Immune system disorders including complement, properdin, factor D deficiencies, or primary antibody deficiency

The vaccine is also recommended, but not provided free for:

  • Laboratory workers routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
  • Military personnel
  • Those traveling to an area where the risk of meningococcal B disease is high

The vaccine is given by injection as a series of 2, 3 or 4 doses depending upon the age at which the immunization series is started.

People who want to be protected against meningococcal B disease may purchase the vaccine at some travel clinics and pharmacies.

For more information about the vaccine, the benefits, possible reactions after the vaccine and who should not get the vaccine, see the HealthLinkBC File: Meningococcal B (Men-B) Vaccine.

About the disease

  • Meningococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection caused by a germ (or bacteria)
  • Meningococcal infections are serious and life-threatening infections and include meningitis, an infection of the lining that covers the brain, and septicemia, an infection of the blood
  • For every 100 children who get sick, up to 15 will die
  • Permanent complications of infection include brain damage and deafness
  • Symptoms include headache, fever and stiff neck. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to bright light (photophobia), confusion, and a purplish skin rash. Anyone with these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention
  • Meningococcal disease is spread from one person to another by coughing, sneezing, or close face-to-face contact. It can also be spread through saliva or spit

There is less Meningococcal type C disease in BC because of routine childhood vaccination programs

Photo courtesy of Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. More vaccine preventable disease images