What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a rare but serious infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord and is caused by meningococcal disease, a serious bacterial illness. Meningococcal disease is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children age 2 through 18 in the United States and may also result in blood infections. Symptoms of meningitis can include fever, stiff neck, eye sensitivity to light, purple-spotted rash, a drop in blood pressure, headache, nausea and vomiting.

Anyone can get meningococcal disease, but it is most common in infants younger than 12 months of age and people with certain medical conditions, such as a removed spleen. Meningococcal disease is contagious and is commonly spread by close contact, such as coughing, and can be shared by people living in the same household. College freshman who live in dormitories and teenagers ages 15 to 19 have an increased risk of getting meningococcal disease.

Meningitis is potentially fatal; even with antibiotic treatment, 10-15 percent of infected people can die. As many as 20 percent of people who survive the infection can be expected to lose a limb, become deaf or have serious long-term medical conditions.

What is the meningitis (meningococcal) vaccine?

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) can prevent infection against meningococcal disease. This vaccine protects about 90 percent of people who get it. This vaccine is not indicated for treatment of meningococcal infections.

Another CDC-recommended option is the serogroup B meningoccal (MenB) vaccine, which protects against an additional bacterial strain that may cause meningitis. Additional MenB vaccine information can be found on the CDCs website: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/mening-serogroup.pdf.

Adults older than 55 should get the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4). Additional MPSV4 vaccine information can be found on the CDCs website: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/mening.pdf

Who should get the meningitis (meningococcal) vaccine?

  • All children ages 11-12, with a booster dose given at 16 years old (adolescents who receive the first dose between ages 13-15 should receive a booster dose between 16-18 years old)
  • College freshman living in dormitories
  • Anyone who has a damaged or removed spleen
  • U.S. military recruits
  • Microbiologists who are routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
  • Anyone traveling to or living in a part of the world where meningococcal disease is common, such as parts of Africa
  • Anyone who has been exposed to a meningitis outbreak

Who should not get the meningitis (meningococcal) vaccine, MenB or MPSV4?

  • Anyone who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of meningococcal vaccine or to any vaccine component
  • Anyone who is moderately or severely ill
  • Anyone who has ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome
  • Pregnant women, unless clearly needed

What are the side effects of the meningitis (meningococcal) vaccine, MenB or MPSV4?

Mild-to-moderate problems:

  • Soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever, muscle aches and drowsiness

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease pain and reduce fever.

Severe problems (rare):

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome (For those who received MCV4
  • Serious allergic reactions, with symptoms including:
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Wheezing
    • Hives
    • Pale skin
    • Fast heartbeat
    • Dizziness

The meningitis (meningococcal) vaccine is available at Walgreens Pharmacy. Ages vary by state.*


If you believe you have a medical emergency, please call 911.

Call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 800-232-4636 or visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines for more vaccine information.


Hamborsky J, Kroger A, Wolfe S, eds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation, 2015.

Vaccine Information Statements:

Meningococcal ACWY Vaccines (MenACWY and MPSV4). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). March 31, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/mening.html. Accessed April 2016.

Serogroup B Meningococcal (MenB). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). August 14, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/mening-serogroup.html.Accessed April 2016 Accessed April 2016.

This publication should be used for general educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither Walgreen Co., its subsidiaries or affiliates, nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this publication.

*Vaccines subject to availability. State-, age- and health-related restrictions may apply.