Meningococcal vaccine

Easy-to-read medicine information about the meningococcal vaccine – what it is, when is it 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 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. 

Read more about the Northland Meningococcal W Vaccination Programme (December 2018)

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.

Read more about the Northland Meningococcal W Vaccination Programme (December 2018)

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.

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.
  • 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. 
  • 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 the face, lips, mouth or have problems breathing
  • Allergic reactions to meningococcal vaccine are rare.
  • If you get these signs within a few days of the immunisation, tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116.

Learn more

The following links have more information on meningococcal vaccine.  

Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ

References

  1. Meningococcal disease Immunisation Handbook 2017, New Zealand
  2. Meningococcal vaccine New Zealand Formulary
Credits: Sandra Ponen, pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 06 Dec 2018