Summary

  • Meningococcal disease is caused by different strains of disease designated by letters of the alphabet, including meningococcal strains A, B, C, W and Y.
  • Meningococcal vaccines are available against B strain, C strain and a combination vaccine against ACWY strains.
  • The National Immunisation Program schedule provides a free meningococcal ACWY vaccine for children at 12 months of age. or a free catch-up dose for unimmunised people under 20 years of age who have not previously had their meningococcal C vaccine at 12 months, to catch up.
  • A free meningococcal ACWY vaccination program for gay and bisexual men (GBM) and men who have sex with men (MSM) living in Victoria, commenced on 11 December 2017 and ends on 31 December 2018.
  • A free meningococcal ACWY vaccination program is underway  for secondary school students in Year 10, or age equivalent (15 or 16 years old) and not attending school until 31 December 2018.
  • Meningococcal vaccines are recommended for infants, children, adolescents, young adults, people at increased risk of meningococcal disease due to certain medical conditions and anyone wishing to protect themselves from meningococcal disease.
  • Common immunisation side effects are usually mild and temporary (occurring in the first few days after immunisation).

Meningococcal disease is any infection caused by bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis (also known as meningococcal bacteria). Although meningococcal disease is uncommon, it is very serious. About 10 per cent of the population carry meningococcal bacteria in their throat without becoming unwell. These people are known as 'carriers'.

Invasive meningococcal disease occurs when these bacteria, which usually live in the throat, enter the bloodstream to cause septicaemia (infection in the blood, also known as 'bacteraemia') or meningitis (inflammation of the membrane covering of the brain). Occasionally, severe infection can also occur in the joints, throat, lungs or intestines.

There are different strains (serogroups) of meningococcal bacteria designated by letters of the alphabet, including meningococcal serogroups A, B, C, W and Y. The strains that are most common in the population fluctuate over time. Serogroups W and Y are currently the most common strains causing cases of invasive meningococcal disease in Victoria. The number of cases caused by the C serogroup bacteria has decreased following the introduction of the serogroup C meningococcal immunisation program in Australia in 2003.

In recent years the prevalence of the meningococcal W strain – one of the main meningococcal strains – has increased significantly across Australia, with Victoria experiencing 36 cases in 2017, 48 cases in 2016, compared to 17 cases in 2015, four in 2014 and just one in 2013.

Meningococcal bacteria are passed from person to person by close, prolonged household and intimate contact. In a small number of people, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause invasive meningococcal disease, which can develop very quickly and causes death in about five to 10 per cent of cases.

There are meningococcal serogroup B vaccines available to purchase on prescription. Children aged less than five years, particularly infants aged less than two years, have the highest numbers of meningococcal disease caused by meningococcal B strains. Another smaller peak in numbers occurs in late adolescence and early adulthood. 

The National Immunisation Program schedule provides a free meningococcal ACWY vaccine for children at 12 months of age. In Victoria a free school-based meningococcal ACWY vaccination program  is underway for students in Year 10  or age equivalent (15 or 16 years old) and ends on 31 December 2018. 

Immunisation against meningococcal disease

Immunisation against meningococcal bacteria is the best protection against meningococcal disease. It is important to know that even if you have had meningococcal disease, you may not develop lifelong immunity and are still advised to be immunised against this life-threatening disease.

Meningococcal ACWY vaccination

Immunisation against meningococcal serogroup ACWY disease is available for free in Victoria as part of the National Immunisation Program schedule for:

  • children at 12 months 
  • children from 13 months to under 20 years of age, who have not previously had their meningococcal C vaccine at 12 months, to catch up.

A free meningococcal ACWY vaccination program for gay and bisexual men (GBM) and men who have sex with men (MSM) living in Victoria, commenced on 11 December 2017 and ends on 31 December 2018.

The meningococcal ACWY vaccine is free to all young people in Year 10 of secondary school, as well as those young people not in secondary school but of an equivalent age (15 or 16 years old) until 31 December 2018.

Immunisation against meningococcal serogroups A, C, W and Y is available in a four-in one combined vaccine for purchase by anyone wishing to protect themselves or their family. It is recommended for high risk groups including:

  • travellers to countries where epidemics of meningococcal disease occur
  • people with poor functioning or no spleen, a complement component disorder, HIV, current or future treatment with eculizumab or a haematopoietic stem cell transplant
  • laboratory personnel who frequently handle meningococcal bacteria.

Meningococcal B vaccination

Immunisation against meningococcal serogroup B disease is available on private prescription, but is not available free under the National Immunisation Program schedule. This vaccine is recommended for high risk groups, including:

  • infants and young children, particularly those aged less than two years
  • adolescents aged 15 to 19 years
  • children and adults with medical conditions that place them at a high risk of meningococcal disease, such as a poor functioning or no spleen, a complement component disorder, HIV, current or future treatment with eculizumab or a haematopoietic stem cell transplant
  • laboratory personnel who frequently handle meningococcal bacteria.

Meningococcal serogroup B vaccine commonly causes fever in children younger than two years of age and skin reactions at the injection site. Paracetamol is recommended 30 minutes before or as soon as practicable after meningococcal B vaccine for children younger than two years of age. Two further doses of paracetamol are recommended six hours apart, regardless of whether fever is present.

Vaccine recommendations for high risk groups.

Speak to your doctor about which vaccine you should have (and how long protection will last) if you are in one of these high-risk groups, including:

  • infants and young children, particularly those aged less than two years
  • adolescents aged 15 to 19 years
  • people who have close household contact with those who have meningococcal disease and who have not been immunised
  • people who are travelling to places, such as Africa, that have epidemics caused by serogroups A, C, W and Y 
  • pilgrims to the annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabian authorities require a valid certificate of vaccination to enter the country
  • people who work in a laboratory and who handle the meningococcal bacteria
  • children aged from six weeks and over, and adults who have high-risk conditions, such as a poor functioning or no spleen, a complement component disorder, HIV, current or future treatment with eculizumab or a haematopoietic stem cell transplant.

Pregnancy and meningococcal disease immunisation

Meningococcal vaccines are not usually recommended for women who are pregnant, but they might be given if your doctor thinks your situation puts you at risk of the disease.

Meningococcal pre-immunisation checklist

Before immunisation, tell your doctor or nurse if you (or your child):

  • are unwell on the day of immunisation (have temperature over 38.5 °C)
  • have ever had a serious reaction to any vaccine
  • have had a serious reaction to any component of the vaccine
  • have had a severe allergy to anything
  • are pregnant.

Side effects of the meningococcal vaccines

Vaccines against meningococcal bacteria are effective and safe, although all medications can have unwanted side effects.

Side effects from these vaccines are uncommon and are usually mild, but may include:

  • localised pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
  • occasionally, an injection-site lump that may last many weeks, but treatment is not needed
  • low-grade temperature (fever)
  • children can be unsettled, irritable, may cry, or be generally unhappy, drowsy and tired
  • meningococcal B vaccine commonly causes fever, localised pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
  • Fever and high fever is common in children aged two to 12 months when meningococcal B vaccine is given (see below).

Managing fever after meningococcal immunisation

Common side effects following immunisation are usually mild and temporary (occurring in the first few days after immunisation). Specific treatment is not usually required.

There are a number of treatment options that can reduce the side effects of the vaccine, including:

  • drinking extra fluids and not overdressing if there is a fever
  • although routine use of paracetamol after vaccination is not recommended (meningococcal B vaccine is the exception), if fever is present, paracetamol can be given – check the label for the correct dose or speak with your pharmacist, (especially when giving paracetamol to children).

Meningococcal B vaccine for children less than two years of age

Fever is common in children aged two to 12 months when meningococcal B vaccine is given on the same day with other vaccines commonly given to infants, compared to when meningococcal B and other routine vaccines are given on separate days.

It is recommended to use paracetamol with every dose of meningococcal B vaccine administered to children less than two years of age, to reduce the chance and severity of fever that may develop following immunisation with meningococcal B vaccine. 

The first dose of paracetamol (15 mg/kg per dose) is recommended 30 minutes before immunisation. This should be followed by two more doses of paracetamol given six hours apart, regardless of whether fever is present.

Managing injection site discomfort

Many vaccine injections may result in soreness, redness, itching, swelling or burning at the injection site for one to two days. Paracetamol might be required to ease the discomfort. A cold compress on the injection site may relieve discomfort.

Concerns about immunisation side effects

If a side effect following immunisation is unexpected, persistent or severe, or if you are worried about yourself or your child’s condition after an immunisation, see your doctor or immunisation nurse as soon as possible or go directly to a hospital. Immunisation side effects may be reported to SAEFVIC, the Victorian vaccine safety and central reporting service on Tel. 1300 882 924 #1.

You can discuss with your immunisation provider how to report adverse events in other states or territories. It is also important to seek medical advice if you (or your child) are unwell, as this may be due to other illness rather than because of the vaccination.

Rare side effects of meningococcal immunisation

There is a very small risk of a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to any vaccine. This is why you are advised to stay at the clinic or medical surgery for at least 15 minutes following immunisation in case further treatment is required. If any other reactions are severe and persistent, or if you are worried, contact your doctor for further information.

Immunisation and HALO

The immunisations you may need are decided by your health, age, lifestyle and occupation. Together, these factors are referred to as HALO.

Talk to your doctor or immunisation provider if you think you or someone in your care has health, age, lifestyle or occupation factors that could mean immunisation is necessary. You can check your immunisation HALO using the Immunisation for Life infographic.

Where to get help

References

More information

Immunisation

The following content is displayed as Tabs. Once you have activated a link navigate to the end of the list to view its associated content. The activated link is defined as Active Tab

Immunisation basics

Timing and schedules

Immunisation throughout life

A-Z of immunisations and vaccines

Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Department of Health and Human Services - RHP&R - Health Protection - Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit

Last updated: June 2018

Content on this website is provided for information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not in any way endorse or support such therapy, service, product or treatment and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. The information and materials contained on this website are not intended to constitute a comprehensive guide concerning all aspects of the therapy, product or treatment described on the website. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions and to ascertain whether the particular therapy, service, product or treatment described on the website is suitable in their circumstances. The State of Victoria and the Department of Health & Human Services shall not bear any liability for reliance by any user on the materials contained on this website.