Meningococcal conjugate vaccine

About meningococcal infection

Meningococcal bacteria can cause two serious diseases:

  1. Meningococcal meningitis: an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord.
  2. Meningococcemia: a more serious infection of the blood.

Meningococcal bacteria are present in the nose and throat. The infection is spread from one person to another through direct contact with the bacteria from the nose or throat of an infected person.

  • Sharing food, drinks, soothers, lipstick, lip balm, straws, water bottles and direct contact such as kissing can increase the risk of spreading the bacteria.

Illness can occur between 2–10 days after contact with the bacteria. Generally, there is no increased risk from casual contact at school, on a bus or airplane, while swimming, attending sports events, or visiting an infected person.

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What are the symptoms of meningococcal infections?

The first signs of meningococcal infection are much like influenza symptoms and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and feeling unwell. These symptoms progress quickly to a bad headache, stiff neck, and/or a reddish-purplish, tiny, bruise-like skin rash.

  • A characteristic rash is the single most specific and most noticeable symptom of invasive meningococcal disease. Individuals with a sudden onset of these symptoms should see a doctor right away.

How can meningococcal infections be prevented?

Meningococcal infections can be prevented through immunization. It can also be prevented by avoiding contact with another person’s saliva. Do not share food, drinks, lipstick, lip balm, straws or water bottles.

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine has helped to prevent the strain of meningococcal infection previously seen most often in Alberta.

Who is at risk for meningococcal infection?

Most people who have contact with the bacteria do not become infected. Many people carry the bacteria without ever becoming ill, but can pass the infection to others. In a few people, meningococcal bacteria enter the body and produce meningitis or other serious infections. Infants have the highest risk of meningococcal disease.

Rates of disease decrease after infancy and then increase again in adolescence and young adulthood. The disease can develop in all age groups, however, rates of meningococcal bacteria are highest during adolescence.

About meningococcal conjugate vaccine

Who should get the vaccine?

In Alberta, the meningococcal (Group C) conjugate vaccine is part of the routine immunization schedule for children. Read the routine immunization schedule

As of February 2011, all Grade 9 students will be offered the meningococcal (Groups A, C, W-135 and Y) conjugate vaccine. This vaccine can help prevent four types of meningococcal disease. It is recommended the vaccine be offered to adolescents – as they are most at risk – to ensure they have the protection they need.

Is the meningococcal conjugate vaccine safe?

Yes, the meningococcal conjugate vaccine is safe. You cannot get the disease from the vaccine.

In Canada, each new vaccine undergoes laboratory and field-testing and must pass a rigorous licensing procedure with the federal government before it is introduced. Once a vaccine is approved, every lot is tested for safety and quality. In addition, occurrence of side effects is continuously monitored.

What if your child is allergic to thimerosal or latex?

Your child may receive this vaccine because thimerosal or latex is not present in the meningococcal conjugate vaccine or in its packaging. The vaccine does not have any preservatives and is Halal certified.

What are the side effects of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine?

Some children experience mild pain or swelling at the place where the needle was given. More general symptoms may occur such as headache, sore muscles and nausea. These symptoms go away in 24–72 hours.

As with any immunization, unexpected or unusual side effects can occur. Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) are rare, occurring at an estimated annual rate ranging from 0.4 to 1.8 reports per 1,000,000 doses of vaccines distributed in Canada.

What should you do if your child has a reaction to the vaccine?

  • For pain or swelling where the needle was given, apply a cool moist towel to the area.
  • For pain or fever use acetaminophen or ibuprophen (e.g., Tylenol® or Advil®) as directed on the package.
    • Note: Aspirin® (ASA) is not recommended for persons under 18 years of age because of the increased risk of Reye’s syndrome.
  • Call your local public health nurse if you have any questions or if your child has an unusual reaction to the vaccine.

Before getting this vaccine

Talk to a public health nurse or your child’s doctor if the child:

  • Is sick with something more serious than a cold,
  • Has an illness with a fever,
  • Has severe allergies to any part of the vaccine,
  • Is severely allergic to any foods, drugs, bee stings, etc.,
  • Has a weakened immune system,
  • Has a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).

Health advice

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, call Health Link Alberta at:

  • 403-943-5465 in Calgary
  • 780-408-5465 in Edmonton
  • 1-866-408-5465 toll-free in Alberta