Meningococcal vaccine

The meningococcal vaccine protects against meningococcal disease. Find out about the vaccine 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 is caused by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. The 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 death, even among people who are otherwise healthy. Read more about meningococcal disease

Meningococcal vaccines reduce the number of people carrying N. meningitidis bacteria, thereby reducing the spread of the bacteria to your whānau and your community. Meningococcal disease can affect anyone of any age, but some people are more at risk. Read more here.  

At least 12 groups of N. meningitidis have been identified. These groups are named by letters. The pattern of disease caused by each group varies by time and country, or geographical area. The most common groups in Aotearoa New Zealand are A, B, C, Y and W. There is no single vaccine that offers protection against all groups.

Which meningococcal vaccines are available in Aotearoa New Zealand?

 There are 4 different meningococcal vaccines registered in New Zealand to cover the different groups:

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

Who should have the meningococcal vaccine?

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the meningococcal vaccine is recommended for the following situations:

During an outbreak

  • People who are close contacts in an meningococcal disease outbreak. The vaccine is free.

People with high risk medical conditions
Regardless of whether there is an outbreak or not, the vaccine is recommended for people with high-risk medical conditions. This includes 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.

Menactra®, NeisVac-C® and Bexsero® are free. 

People aged 13-25 years in a close-living situation
Menactra® is free for people aged 13-25 years who, within the next 3 months are entering, or are in the 1st year of living in boarding school hostel, tertiary education hall of residence, military barracks or prison.

If you are living in one of the specified situations above, the Menactra® vaccine is still free if you have it before November 30, 2021. After this date, you will need to pay for the vaccine.

Other recommended groups are:

• infants and young children aged under 5 years, adolescents and young adults who do not meet the eligibility criteria listed above
• laboratory workers regularly handling meningococcal cultures
• those travelling to high-risk countries.

In this group above, Menactra® or Nimenrix® is the recommended brand but is not funded. Contact your doctor or nurse for more information.

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. In older children, adolescents and adults, protection is expected to last for around 5 years after vaccination.

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 your pregnancy and during breastfeeding.

What are the side effects of meningococcal vaccine?

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 it is troublesome.
  • The routine use of paracetamol is not recommended following vaccinations, but may be used if your child is miserable or distressed. But in children aged under 2 years who receive Bexsero, the routine use of paracetamol is recommended. Read more: Paracetamol use with Bexsero
  • Read more: After your immunisation
  • Fever
  • It is quite common for the first 1 or 2 days after receiving the injection and usually settles within a few days.
  • Dress lightly, with a single layer of clothing. 
  • Keep the room cool, use a fan.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Tell your doctor if the fever persists.
  • The routine use of paracetamol is not recommended following vaccinations, but may be used if your child is miserable or distressed. But in children aged under 2 years who receive Bexsero, the routine use of paracetamol is recommended. Read more: Paracetamol use with Bexsero 
  • Read more: After your immunisation
  • 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.
  • Tell your doctor if it is troublesome.
  • Read more: After your immunisation
  • Signs of an allergic reaction, such as skin rash, itching, blisters, peeling skin, swelling of your face, lips or 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.
Did you know that you can report a side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product

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 (GP), you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Phone 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.

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
Meningitis prevention Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa, 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, NZ
  2. Meningococcal vaccine NZ Formulary
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Maya Patel, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 08 Nov 2021