Easy-to-read medicine information about the meningococcal vaccine – what it is, when is it given and possible side effects.
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What is meningococcal vaccine?
Meningococcal vaccines are used to protect against meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease can lead to serious illnesses including meningitis (inflammation of the 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 that cause meningococcal disease. There are a few types of meningococcal vaccines registered in New Zealand, which 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 some children, teenagers and adults with weakened immune systems who are at risk of meningococcal disease may be eligible for vaccination. Check with your doctor or nurse about your eligibility.
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.
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 will depend 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.
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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.
The following links have more information on meningococcal vaccine.
Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ