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 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, even among people who are otherwise healthy. Read more about meningococcal disease

During an outbreak of meningococcal disease, a meningococcal vaccination 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?

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bug called Neisseria meningitidis. At least 12 groups of N. meningitidis have been identified, including groups A, B, C, X, Y and W. The pattern of disease caused by each group varies by time and country or geographical area. There is no single vaccine that offers protection against all groups. There are different meningococcal vaccines registered in New Zealand to cover 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.

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?

In New Zealand, the following meningococcal vaccines are funded for the following groups:

Menactra

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

  • People aged 13–25 years who within the next 3 months are entering a boarding school hostel, tertiary education hall of residence, military barracks or prison.
  • People aged 13–25 years who are currently living in boarding school hostels, tertiary education halls of residence, military barracks or prisons (to 30 November 2021).

If you qualify, you can make an appointment with your primary care provider to receive the Menactra vaccination up to 3 months before entering a close-living situation. 

Bexsero

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

  • are having or have had their spleen removed (splenectomy)
  • have HIV
  • have complement deficiency (acquired or inherited)
  • are having or have had organ transplant
  • for close contacts of meningococcal cases of any group.
  • have had meningococcal disease of any group.
  • have had bone marrow transplant
  • have had immunosuppression for longer than 28 days.

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 during breastfeeding.

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.
  • 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 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.

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.

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, NZ
  2. Meningococcal vaccine NZ Formulary
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 01 Jul 2021