Vaccines that protect against meningitis

A broad range of vaccines can protect against meningitis – an illness that causes the protective membranes covering your brain and spinal cord to become infected or inflamed (swollen).

There are many causes of meningitis, the most common being infection caused by viruses or bacteria. These are called infective meningitis because they are caused by  bugs which can be spread from person to person. 

Vaccines that can protect against meningitis include vaccines targeting meningococcal, pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) infections. 

Pneumococcal vaccine

Pneumococcal vaccine is used to prevent infections that are caused by the bug (bacteria) called Pneumococcus. These infections can range from sinusitis and ear infections to life-threatening infections like pneumonia and meningitis.

  • Pneumococcal vaccine is part of the New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule that is offered free to babies.
  • It is also offered free to children and adults with a weakened immune system, who are at high risk of pneumococcal infection.
  • Read more about pneumococcal vaccine.

Meningococcal vaccine

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bug called N. meningitidis and often occurs without warning, even among people who are otherwise healthy. Read more about meningococcal disease.  There are at least 12 types of N. meningitidis bacteria, called “serogroups.” Serogroups A, B, C, W, and Y cause most meningococcal disease. There is no single vaccine that offers protection against all serogroups that cause meningococcal disease.

  • For best protection against meningococcal disease in New Zealand, two vaccinations are recommended – one against group B disease and one against groups A, C, Y and W disease. 
  • Meningococcal vaccine is not part of the routine immunisation schedule, but some children, teenagers and adults with weakened immune systems who are at risk of meningococcal disease may be eligible for vaccination.
  • During an outbreak of meningococcal disease, a meningococcal immunisation programme may be started for those in the highest risk groups, if a vaccine is available. Read more about meningococcal vaccine.
2018 Meningococcal W (MenW) outbreak

The number of MenW cases doubled in New Zealand from 12 to 24 between 2017 and November 2018. In response, the government began funding Meningococcal W vaccinations in Northland, the region most affected by the outbreak. 

Learn more about Meningococcal W and the 2018 Northland Community MenW Vaccination Programme

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine

Haemophilus influenzae is the name of a group of bacteria that can cause mild to very serious illness. The most common is type B (Hib). These bacteria live in the nose and throat of most healthy people without causing illness. If the bacteria get into other parts of your body, it can cause infection. 

  • Babies and young children are most at risk of serious disease (including meningitis) from these bacteria because their immune system is not fully developed. Being in daycare, having school-aged brothers and sisters, and living with lots of other people can also increase your risk of getting Hib disease.
  • In New Zealand vaccination against Hib disease is free as part of the National Immunisation Schedule, for babies at 6 weeks, 3 months, 5 months and 15 months of age. Read more about haemophilus influenzae.

Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine

The MMR vaccine offers protection against measles, mumps and rubella infections. Meningitis can sometimes occur as a complication of mumps. Measles and rubella can cause encephalitis (an infection of the brain). In New Zealand, the MMR vaccine is free as part of the childhood immunisation schedule, for children at 15 months and 4 years of age. Read more about MMR vaccine.

Where can I get vaccinated?

The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.

If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Ring them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.

You can find a clinic near you on the Healthpoint website. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.

Vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule are free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.

Learn more

Vaccine-preventable diseases 
Childhood immunisation

Credits: Sandra Ponen, pharmacist. Reviewed By: Dr Katie Walland, Advanced Trainee, Infectious Diseases, Waikato Hospital Last reviewed: 18 Dec 2018