Why do we need a meningococcal vaccine?The meningococcal bacteria is not well known by most parents, but it is an important cause of serious infections in children. In fact, meningococcal disease is one of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis and can lead to outbreaks and epidemics. It can also cause meningococcemia, a serious and life-threatening blood infection.
Ever wonder why your Pediatrician gets so concerned when your child has a fever and a rash?
It is mostly because of meningococcemia. Children with this infection can develop a fever and red or purple spots on their skin. These children can then quickly worsen, often over just 12-24 hours, and become critically ill, with about 10-15% of them dying, even with proper treatment.
The fact that invasive meningococcal disease so often strikes previously healthy children, the majority of whom were perfectly fine less than 24 hours of ending up in the hospital, and worsens so quickly (making it hard to diagnose), makes this infection even more scary.
Even children who survive can have serious sequela, including becoming deaf, having seizures and strokes, or amputation of their arms, legs, fingers, and/or toes.
So a meningococcal infection is clearly something that you don't want your kids to get...
Who gets meningococcal disease?Infants under 12 months old are most likely to get meningococcal disease. There is then another peak in the rate of meningococcal disease among teens and young adults, with the highest rates being among freshman college students who are living in dormitories.
Keep in mind that meningococcal disease is still rare though, only affecting about 2,600 people in the United States each year.
Who should get Menactra?It is currently recommended that Menactra be given to all children at their routine well child visit to their doctor when they are 11 or 12 years old. Teens should also get it when they start high school or if they are going to be living in a dorm at college and haven't gotten a meningococcal vaccine yet.
According to the CDC, meningococcal vaccine is also recommended for teenagers, people who want to decrease their risk of meningococcal disease, and:
- U.S. military recruits
- anyone traveling to, or living in, a part of the world where meningococcal disease is common, such as parts of Africa
- anyone who has a damaged spleen, or whose spleen has been removed
- anyone who has terminal complement component deficiency (an immune system disorder)
- people who might have been exposed to meningitis during an outbreak
- microbiologists who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
Menactra and Menveo can also be given to certain high risk children between the ages of 2 and 10 years, such as children with a persistent complement component deficiency and anatomic or functional asplenia.
Teens also need a booster dose of Menactra and Menveo when they are 16 to 18 years old.
Why don't younger kids get the meningococcal vaccines?Although younger children do get meningococcal disease, the type of meningococcal bacteria that affects them is unfortunately not covered by the current meningococcal vaccines.
Menactra and Menveo only cover meningococcal bacteria types A, C, Y, and W-135, which do commonly cause infections in older children and young adults. Infants, on the other hand, are usually infected with type B of the meningococcal bacteria, for which there is no vaccine licensed in the United States yet.
About 48 percent of cases among infants are vaccine preventable though, so hopefully Menactra will eventually be found to be safe and effective for younger children too.
Does Menactra have thimerosal?No. Like most vaccines currently given to children, Menactra is free of thimerosal and other preservatives. Although there is no proven link between thimerosal, mercury, and autism, that this new vaccine has no preservatives is likely welcome news to most parents.