The meningitis B vaccine is a shot that’s designed to protect you from developing this illness. Meningitis B is a serious bacterial infection that affects the lining of your brain and spinal cord. It can spread quickly and even be fatal within as little as 24 to 48 hours after symptoms begin.
This vaccine protects you against meningitis B but not other forms of meningococcal disease. However, the majority of cases of meningococcal disease in the Americas, New Zealand, Europe, and Australia are meningitis B.
In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about the meningitis B vaccine, including its effectiveness, how it works, and who should get it.
Meningitis B is a type of meningococcal disease. Meningococcal diseases are a group of illnesses caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, which can be divided into 13 subcategories. Meningitis B is caused by the B subcategory (MenB).
Two types of meningococcal vaccines are approved in the United States:
- meningococcal conjugate vaccines (MenACWY)
- serogroup B meningococcal vaccines (MenB)
MenACWY vaccines protect you against the A, C, W, and Y subtypes of Neisseria meningitidis. MenB protects you from type B. MenB vaccines are also known as serotype B meningococcal vaccines or meningitis B vaccines.
The meningitis B vaccine is made from proteins found on the outer part of the MenB bacterium. The exact proteins depend on which version of the vaccine you receive. Being exposed to these proteins stimulates your immune system to recognize the bacterium and teaches your body to protect itself from them.
Why the meningitis B vaccine is used
There are many reasons that the meningitis B vaccine was developed and why you would want to protect yourself and those you love against it.
Meningitis B is a serious disease that progresses quickly and can lead to death. The mortality rate from meningitis B in the United States is about 10 to 15 percent when treated and up to 50 percent when untreated. It’s also possible to develop long-term conditions such as hearing loss or even brain damage after recovering from meningitis B.
The MenB bacterial infection is passed between people through saliva and respiratory fluids. Activities like sharing drinks, kissing, or coughing can spread the bacterium. The meningitis B vaccine can help reduce transmission between people and prevent or manage outbreaks.
Unlike many diseases, meningitis B is most common in young people. Infants and young children are at the highest risk. Adolescents and young adults are at the next highest risk of infection.
Between 2013 and 2018, meningococcal disease outbreaks occurred at 10 universities and led to two deaths. All 10 universities implemented MenB vaccination to prevent further spread.
In the United States, two types of meningitis B vaccines are Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved — Bexsero and Trumenba.
To receive FDA approval, both vaccines had to undergo clinical trials showing their safety and effectiveness. Both vaccines work in a similar way but use different proteins to stimulate your immune response.
Bexsero is produced by GlaxoSmithKline. It’s administered in two 0.5 milligram (mg) doses, 1 month apart.
Before approval, safety data was reviewed from 3,139 subjects in clinical trials in the United States, Canada, Australia, Chile, the United Kingdom, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. Additional safety information was collected from 15,351 people who received Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)–sponsored vaccines at universities.
Trumenba is produced by Pfizer and is administered in two to three doses. For the three-dose schedule, the second dose is administered 1 to 2 months after the first, and the third vaccine is given 6 months after the first dose. For the two dose schedule, the second dose is given at 6 months after the first.
Before the FDA approved Tremenba, reviewers examined safety data from seven clinical trials and 4,576 total participants who received at least one dose.
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The CDC recommends the meningitis B vaccine for people 10 years or older who are at an increased risk for meningococcal disease. The CDC’s preferred age range for getting the vaccine is between 16 to 18 years old.
People who have the highest chance of getting meningitis B include:
- infants younger than 12 months old
- adolescents and young adults between 16 and 23 years old
- people with conditions that adversely affect their immune system, such as HIV
- scientists who work with bacteria
- people who may be exposed to an outbreak, such as students on a college campus with known cases
In the U.S. meningitis B vaccine isn’t available yet for infants younger than 1 year old but is administered in the United Kingdom as part of the National Health Service vaccination schedule.
A 2021 study examined Bexsero using data from Quebec, Italy, the United Kingdom, Portugal, and South Australia to determine its safety and effectiveness.
The researchers found that meningitis B rates decreased by 50 to 100 percent in vaccine-eligible populations. The vaccines were found to be 79 to 100 percent effective in people who received two or more doses.
Clinical trials have found promising results for Trumenba as well. More data is needed to understand its true effectiveness, but researchers believe that it can also provide a high level of protection.
The CDC states that it doesn’t prefer one vaccine over the other.
In the same 2021 study mentioned above, researchers found the vaccine demonstrated an acceptable level of safety. No safety concerns have been raised based on current data, which includes more than 3 million doses administered in the United Kingdom.
Data from Quebec revealed four cases of a kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome in children age 2 to 5 within 13 months of receiving their vaccine. Researchers are still trying to understand if there’s a link, but a lack of similar findings from other countries suggests these cases may have occurred by chance.
Side effects of meningitis B are usually mild and last for a few days. They may include:
Although rare, all vaccines come with the risk of an allergic reaction that can be potentially life-threatening.
Meningitis B vaccines protect against a potentially life threatening bacterial infection that targets the lining of your brain and spinal cord. This bacterium can be transmitted through saliva and respiratory fluids.
At this time, meningitis B vaccines are only recommended for people an increase chance of developing meningitis B. This includes people with HIV or those in a community with a known outbreak. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have implemented meningitis B vaccines as part of their standard immunization schedule.
If you aren’t sure if you’re at an elevated risk for meningitis B, you can ask a healthcare professional if the meningitis B vaccine may be beneficial for you.