Meningococcal vaccine

Easy-to-read medicine information about the meningococcal vaccine – what it is, when it is given and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Vaccines
  • Menactra
  • NeisVac-C
  • Nimenrix
  • Bexsero

What is meningococcal vaccine?

Meningococcal vaccines are used to protect against meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease can lead to serious illnesses including meningitis (inflammation of your brain membranes) and septicaemia (blood poisoning). These illnesses can develop quickly over a few hours and can cause serious disability or even death. 

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

During an outbreak of meningococcal disease, a meningococcal immunisation programme may be started to protect people at highest risk of getting or being affected by the infection. Meningococcal vaccines reduce the number of people carrying N. meningitidis bug in the back of their throat, thereby reducing the spread of the bacteria around the community. 

Which meningococcal vaccines are available in New Zealand?

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. There are a few types of meningococcal vaccines registered in New Zealand to cover different serogroups:

  • Menactra covers groups A, C, W, Y   
  • NeisVac-C covers group C 
  • Nimenrix covers groups A, C, W, Y
  • Bexsero covers group B.

For best protection against all meningococcal disease in New Zealand, separate vaccinations against group B disease and groups A, C, Y and W disease are recommended.

When is meningococcal vaccine given?

Meningococcal vaccine is not part of the routine immunisation schedule, but may be funded in some situations.

Children, teenagers and adults with weakened immune systems who are at risk of meningococcal disease

For example, people who:

  • are having or have had their spleen removed (splenectomy)
  • are HIV positive
  • are undergoing or have had an organ transplantation
  • have had stem cell/bone marrow transplantation
  • have had immunosuppression for longer than 28 days
  • are a close contact of someone with meningococcal disease.

People aged 13–25 years in a close-living situation

  • From 1 December 2019, meningococcal ACWY vaccine (Menactra®) is funded for people aged 13–25 years in their first year of living in a boarding school hostel, tertiary education hall of residence, military barracks or prison.
  • There is also a catch-up programme from 1 December 2019 to 30 November 2020 for those aged 13–25 years who are already in one of these close-living situations.
  • Eligible individuals will be able to receive the meningococcal ACWY vaccination up to 3 months before entering a boarding school hostel, tertiary education hall of residence, military barracks or prison close-living situation.
  • Ideally, people would be vaccinated at least 2 weeks prior to moving into a close-living situation.

Dose

  • People who are in their first year or currently of living in a boarding school hostel, tertiary education hall of residence, military barracks or prison or close-living situation will only need one dose of the vaccine.
  • People who have already received a dose of meningococcal ACWY vaccine (Menactra® or Nimenrix®) do not require a booster dose for 5 years.

Check with your doctor or nurse about your eligibility.

During an outbreak of meningococcal disease, a meningococcal vaccination programme may be started for those in the highest risk groups if a vaccine is available.

How effective is meningococcal vaccine?

Having the meningococcal vaccine does not give you lifelong protection against meningococcal disease. When you get the vaccine, it causes your body's defence system to produce antibodies to fight against the infection if you come into contact with someone who has the illness. But, over time, the antibody levels decrease.

The number and quality of antibodies and how long they last depend on what type of vaccine is used, the meningococcal group(s) covered by the vaccine and the age of the person receiving the vaccine.

How is meningococcal vaccine given?

Meningococcal vaccine is given by injection into a muscle, commonly your mid-thigh or upper arm. The number of doses required depends on the brand used and the age at which the first dose is given. You can receive more than one meningococcal vaccine at a time.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Meningococcal vaccines are non-live vaccines and are safe to be given during all stages of pregnancy and are safe during breastfeeding.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, meningococcal vaccine can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Pain, swelling, or redness around the injection site (hard and sore to touch)
  • Heavy arm
  • This is quite common after having the vaccination.
  • It usually starts a few hours after getting the injection and settles within a few days.
  • Place a cold, wet cloth, or ice pack where the injection was given. Leave it on for a short time. 
  • Do not rub the injection site.
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Note: The routine use of paracetamol with every dose of Bexsero in children aged under 2 years is recommended. Read more: Paracetamol use with Bexsero 
  • Read more: After your immunisation
  • Fever
  • Feeling unwell, tired or weak
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle ache
  • Headache
  • These are quite common for the first 1 or 2 days after getting the injection.
  • It usually settles within a few days.
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Because paracetamol or ibuprofen can interfere with your immunisation response to a vaccine, only take them for relief of severe discomfort or high fever. 
  • Note: The routine use of paracetamol with every dose of Bexsero in children aged under 2 years is recommended. Read more: Paracetamol use with Bexsero 
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Read more: After your immunisation
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as skin rash, itching, blisters, peeling skin, swelling of your face, lips, mouth or having problems breathing
  • Allergic reactions to meningococcal vaccine are rare.
  • If you get these signs within a few days of the vaccination, tell your doctor immediately or phone HealthLine 0800 611 116.

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

The following links have more information on meningococcal vaccine.  

Meningococcal disease Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Bexsero Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Menactra Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
NeisVac-C Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Nimenrix Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ

References

  1. Meningococcal disease Immunisation Handbook 2017, NZ
  2. Meningococcal vaccine New Zealand Formulary
  3. PHARMAC announces extension to Menactra eligibility IMAC, November 2019
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 28 Nov 2019