The Importance of the Meningitis B Vaccine: An Overview

Why get vaccinated?

Meningococcal B vaccine is an essential safeguard against meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B. This disease can lead to meningitis (infection of the brain and spinal cord lining) and blood infections. Even with treatment, it's fatal for 10 to 15 out of every 100 infected people. Among survivors, approximately 10 to 20 out of every 100 endure disabilities such as hearing loss, brain damage, kidney damage, loss of limbs, nervous system problems, or severe scars.

While meningococcal disease is relatively rare and its cases have been decreasing in the United States since the 1990s, it remains a severe illness with significant risks. Certain groups, including infants under one year old, adolescents and young adults aged 16 through 23, people with specific medical conditions affecting the immune system, and microbiologists who work with N. meningitidis, are at increased risk.

The Vaccine

The Meningococcal B vaccine requires multiple doses for optimal protection, with two variants of the vaccine currently available. Consistency in vaccine type across all doses is crucial.

This vaccine is recommended for people aged 10 years or older who are at heightened risk for serogroup B meningococcal disease, including people at risk due to a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak, individuals with damaged or removed spleens, those with a rare immune system condition known as "complement component deficiency," people taking complement inhibitors, and microbiologists working with isolates of N. meningitidis.

The vaccine may also be given to anyone aged 16 through 23 to provide short-term protection against most strains of serogroup B meningococcal disease, following a discussion with their health care provider. The preferred age for vaccination is 16 through 18 years.

Talk with your health care provider

Before receiving the vaccine, it's essential to discuss any previous allergic reactions to the meningococcal B vaccine or any severe allergies with your healthcare provider. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, this should also be shared with your provider.

Under certain circumstances, your healthcare provider may decide to postpone the vaccination until a future visit. Meningococcal B vaccination should be delayed for pregnant individuals unless the benefits of vaccination outweigh potential risks, following consultation with a healthcare provider.

Risks of a vaccine reaction

Common side effects of the meningococcal B vaccination include soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, fever, chills, nausea, or diarrhea. These reactions occur in more than half of the vaccinated individuals.

As with any medication, there is a very remote chance of a vaccine causing a severe allergic reaction, other severe injuries, or even death.

What if there is a serious problem?

In the event of a severe allergic reaction post-vaccination (characterized by hives, face and throat swelling, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, or weakness), immediate medical attention is required. For any other signs that cause concern, contacting your healthcare provider is advised.

Adverse reactions should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Usually, your healthcare provider will file this report, or you can do it yourself. VAERS is only for reporting reactions, and its staff members do not provide medical advice.

How can I learn more?

To get more information, consider contacting your healthcare provider or local or state health department. You can also visit the website of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for vaccine package inserts and additional information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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