As executive director of Immunize Nevada and more importantly, as a parent, I make sure to follow the ACIP recommended vaccine schedule for my family. For my 16 year old son, that meant getting his MenACWY booster dose and asking my provider about the MenB vaccine series. MenACWY was easy. MenB was much more challenging.
You’ve probably seen the commercials about Meningitis B and may be wondering about if your teenager is fully protected. It takes two types of meningitis vaccines to be immunized against meningococcal disease caused by serogroups A, B, C, W, Y. But there’s a catch. While the MenACWY vaccine has a routine recommendation, the MenB vaccine has a permissive or suggested recommendation. And while the symptoms and devastating complications of meningococcal disease are the same, 50% of all Meningitis B cases are among 17-22 year olds and serogroup B is responsible for 100% of all outbreaks on college campuses in the US since 2011. Knowing these statistics, I wanted to make sure my son also received the MenB vaccine.
Like many healthcare providers, my doctor’s office didn’t yet carry the MenB vaccine (they do now!) So I called the retail pharmacy chains in my area, and they didn’t have it either. Hmmm. This was going to be harder than I thought. Then I realized while we were in Las Vegas to see Hamilton: An American Musical, my son could get vaccinated at the Southern Nevada Health District. They have walk-in hours and multiple locations, and take a variety of insurance plans and participate in the VFC program (which provides free or low-cost vaccine to children who may not otherwise be able to afford them.) It was time to take a shot.
Long story short, my son got his MenB vaccine while on summer vacation. Not exactly on his bucket list of fun things to do, but he did get to relax at the pool; and I got to relax knowing he was on his way to being fully protected against meningococcal disease! We didn’t throw away our shot.
It’s important to know the facts. And unfortunately, millions of teens and young adults haven’t been vaccinated against Meningitis B. So, what do you need to know about meningococcal disease, the MenB vaccine, and how to access it (without traveling across Nevada like me?)
What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is spread by typical adolescent activities: sharing food or drinks, coughing or sneezing, kissing, and living or socializing in close quarters. Signs and symptoms are usually sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. It can start with symptoms similar to influenza (flu), and will often also cause nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, rash, and confusion. When it strikes it can progress quickly – usually without warning. It can lead to death in 10-15 percent of cases, and 19 percent of survivors live with permanent disabilities such as hearing loss, limb amputations, and/or brain damage.
What is the vaccine recommendation?
The CDC recommends permissive use (individual clinical decision-making) of MenB vaccine for ages 16-23, with a preferred age of 16-18. This recommendation joins the long-standing recommendation that all adolescents get the MenACWY vaccine at age 11-12 with a booster dose at 16. Serogroup B vaccine is particularly important for older adolescents and young adults because it is the most common cause of meningococcal disease in this age group. Bottom line, ask your healthcare provider about MenB vaccine if you have a 16-18 year old.
Where can my child get vaccinated?
Bexsero or Trumenba should be available wherever other vaccines are – your physician’s office, community health clinics, local health districts, retail pharmacies. But as I discovered, this may not always be the case. So call first, be persistent, or search by zipcode on vaccinefinder.org. It should be covered by private insurance when administered in-network and is available through the VFC program for those under the age of 19, so cost shouldn’t be a concern. This vaccine is a series, so ask when to return for the next dose.
What are the side effects of the vaccine?
With any medicine, including vaccines, there is a chance of side effects. These are usually mild and go away on their own within a few days; serious reactions are rare. As with many vaccines, there may be redness or soreness of the arm. Teens should also sit for 15 minutes after getting vaccinated to prevent fainting. My son’s arm hurt a lot, he didn’t faint, and afterwards he powered down an In-N-Out burger and fries.
Here at Immunize Nevada, our mission is to be a trusted resource for immunizations and as part of that, it’s important we help spread awareness about Meninigitis B. Parents, young adults, healthcare providers, schools, and universities need to make sure they are educated about all strains of meningitis, including Meningitis B. Nevada requires the MenACWY vaccine for 7th grade and university (UNR/UNLV) enrollment, so during that 16 year old appointment for the MenACWY booster dose, ask about the MenB vaccine too. Giving our teenagers and young adults the tools to stay healthy is just one the many ways we can help them grow safely and smartly into adulthood.
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