Meningococcal Vaccine

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Meningococcal Vaccine


Generic NameBrand Name
meningococcal conjugate (Men-C)Meningitec, Menjugate, NeisVac
meningococcal conjugate quadrivalent (MCV4)Menactra, Menveo
meningococcal polysaccharide (MPSV4) Menomune

How It Works

Meningococcal vaccine is given to protect people from becoming infected with bacteria that cause meningitis. The vaccines contain small amounts of weakened bacteria and are given as a shot (injection). This helps your body make chemicals called antibodies that can then recognize and destroy the bacteria if you are exposed to it later.

Why It Is Used

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord. Meningococcal disease also causes infections in the blood. These infections can be serious and can even cause death, especially in people who have impaired immune systems, older adults, and children younger than 2 years of age.

Scientists divide meningococcal bacteria into "groups." Within each type of vaccine are specific formulas that protect against the different groups of meningococcal bacteria. Just because you've been immunized against one group of meningococcal bacteria does not mean you are totally protected against getting meningococcal disease from a different group.

Doctors use two types of meningococcal vaccines for routine immunization: meningococcal conjugate (Men-C and MCV4) and meningococcal polysaccharide (MPSV4). The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has made recommendations on who should get each kind of vaccine.

  • Meningococcal conjugate (Men-C)
    • Men-C is recommended for babies in 3 separate doses at least 4 weeks apart when the baby is 2, 4, and 6 months old, or at the age recommended by your doctor or provincial health unit.
    • If the baby is between 4 and 12 months old and has never had the Men-C vaccine, he or she may be given 2 doses, at least 1 month apart.1
    • Children who are vaccinated before the age of 1 year should receive a booster dose between the age of 12 and 24 months.2
    • Men-C can be given at the same time as other routine childhood vaccinations.
    • Men-C may be recommended as a single shot for children 5 years and older.1
    • Adolescents may receive a dose of Men-C or MCV4 around age 12, even if they received a meningococcal vaccine as an infant.
  • Meningococcal conjugate quadrivalent (MCV4)
    • MCV4 is recommended for children 2 years and older who are at high risk for getting meningococcal disease. This includes children with impaired immune systems.3
    • MCV4 is recommended for adults at risk for getting meningococcal disease, including those who may be travelling to an area where the disease is active. 4
    • Adolescents should receive a dose of MCV4 or Men-C around age 12, even if they received a meningococcal vaccine as an infant.
  • Meningococcal polysaccharide (MPSV4) for people at high risk
    • MPSV4 is recommended for adults at risk for getting meningococcal disease.
    • MPSV4 is not recommended for routine infant or child vaccination. It is rarely used in children under the age of 2.

Immunization schedules and requirements for vaccines vary by province and territory. For example, in British Columbia babies receive only 2 doses of the Men-C vaccine at 2 and 12 months old. You can keep track of when your child received vaccines using the National Childhood Immunization Record (What is a PDF document?), the Alberta childhood immunization record (What is a PDF document?), or the British Columbia Childhood Immunization Record (What is a PDF document?). Contact your local public health unit for more information.

Meningococcal vaccines are also recommended for:

  • People who might be affected during an outbreak of certain types of meningococcal disease.
  • People who have a damaged spleen or had their spleen removed.
  • Those who are travelling to or living in areas of the world where meningococcal disease is common, such as West Africa.
  • Military recruits.

How Well It Works

Meningococcal vaccines work well and protect about 90% of people from meningococcal disease. MCV4 may give longer lasting protection and may be better at preventing the spread of the disease.

Side Effects

Meningococcal vaccines are safe medicines. Side effects are usually mild and may include:

  • Redness, warmth, or swelling where the shot was given.
  • Fussiness, grouchiness.
  • Sleepiness.
  • Little interest in eating.
  • Slight fever.

Even though serious allergic reactions are rare with these medicines, call your doctor or local health unit right away if you or your child has trouble breathing, a high fever, or anything unusual after having the shot.

Tell your doctor or nurse if your child has had a severe reaction to any vaccine or has severe allergies.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

MPSV4 is safe and effective for use during pregnancy. MCV4 may be used during pregnancy when the benefits of getting the vaccine outweighs the risk. 5

No evidence has shown that Canadian university students who live in dormitories or residence halls are at higher risk of getting meningococcal disease.1

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) (2006). Menningococcal vaccine. In Canadian Immunization Guide, 7th ed., pp. 237–250. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada.
  2. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) (2007). Meningococcal C conjugate vaccination recommendations for infants. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 33(ACS-11): 1–12.
  3. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) (2009). Update on the invasive meningococcal disease and meningococcal vaccine conjugate recommendations. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 36(ACS-3): 1–40. Also available online:
  4. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) (2009). Statement on meningococcal vaccination for travellers. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 35(ACS-4): 1–22. Also available online:
  5. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) (2006). Recommended immunization. In Canadian Immunization Guide, 7th ed. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada. Also available online:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised August 24, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.