This page provides a brief summary of the disease and the vaccine that is available to prevent it. Links to more detailed information are provided at the bottom of the page.
What is meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal disease is a serious illness caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. This bacterial infection can cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining around the brain) and septicaemia (blood poisoning).
There are different groups of the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Before the introduction of the meningitis C (MenC) vaccine in 2000, groups B and C caused most cases of meningococcal disease in Ireland. Thanks to the MenC vaccine against group C bacteria, the number of cases of meningococcal disease due to group C bacteria has fallen dramatically. Most cases are now caused by group B bacteria.
How do people get meningococcal disease?
Meningococcal bacteria can live at the back of the throat or in the nose. Most people, who carry these bacteria (carriers), remain well but they can spread the bacteria to others through coughing, sneezing, or kissing. Close personal contact with a carrier sometimes leads to infection. You need many hours of close personal contact to become infected as the bacteria do not survive long outside the body.
Meningococcal disease may occur at any age but the highest rate of meningococcal disease occurs in children under 1 year of age. Meningococcal B disease is most common in children under one year of age. The next highest risk group are young people aged 15-19 years. In Ireland the risk of infection is highest in winter and early spring.
What are the symptoms of meningococcal disease?
The onset of meningococcal disease can be very swift. The symptoms of meningococcal disease include fever, a stiff neck, headache, joint pains, and a rash. If you think your child has signs of meningococcal disease seek medical help immediately from your G.P. or nearest paediatric Emergency Department. In some cases acting quickly to get medical help can mean the difference between life and death.
Meningococcal disease is a very serious life threatening illness.
Of the people who get meningococcal disease:
- 1 in 20 will die
- 1 in 10 people who recover will have a major disability such as deafness, brain damage or loss of fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms or legs.
Early diagnosis leads to early treatment with antibiotics and a greater chance that the person will make a full recovery. Early diagnosis is the key so if you suspect that someone may have meningitis or septicaemia seek medical attention immediately.
More information is available at http://www.meningitis.org/ireland
Who should get meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine?
Meningococcal B disease is prevented by vaccination.
All children are offered MenB vaccine at 2 and 4 months of age with a booster dose of MenB vaccine given at 12 months.
Children under 1 year of age are most at risk of getting MenB and should be vaccinated.
When was the meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine introduced into the primary childhood immunisation schedule?
The MenB vaccine was introduced in Ireland for all children born on or after 1 October 2016 because children under one year are at the highest risk of meningococcal B disease.
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Is there a catch up programme available for older children?
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee* recommends a catch up programme for children up until when they reach the age of two years.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee reviewed the childhood vaccination catch up schedule in March 2020, the committee decided that MenB vaccine should not now be recommended for catch up vaccination when a child reaches the age of 2 years, unless the child is in an at risk group.
The guidelines were changed because the risk of MenB infection, which is most common before the age of one year, diminishes rapidly after the age of 2 years (The same recommendation is been given in the UK).
Parents however may choose to have their older children vaccinated if they wish.
The MenB vaccine would have to be sourced privately through a GP from the manufacturer.
(*The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) expert group of medical specialists from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland makes recommendation on vaccination policy.)
My child has missed a dose of MenB vaccine can they still get vaccinated?
Any child who has missed a dose of MenB vaccine can still get it from their GP up to the age of 2 years.
Contact your GP practice today to make an appointment.
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Does the meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine protect against all meningococcal disease?
Only meningococcal B infection is prevented by the MenB vaccine. Other types of meningococcal infection are not covered by this vaccine.
Meningococcal C vaccine for protection against meningitis C infection has been given to children in Ireland since 2000. Since the vaccine was introduced in late 2000, the number of cases of meningococcal disease, due to group meningococcal group C bacteria, has declined dramatically. The number of reported cases has fallen from 139 in 2000 to just 6 in 2014, a reduction of 96%
It is very important to remain alert for symptoms of meningococcal disease as not all types are covered by the vaccines. Urgent medical attention should be sought if symptoms occur.
Who should not get meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine?
There are very few people who should not get MenB vaccine. Your child should not get the vaccine if they have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of vaccine or any part of the vaccine including tetanus vaccine.
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What to expect after having meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine?
After getting the vaccine, your child may have discomfort, redness or swelling around the area where the injection was given. They may be irritable and have a fever.
Of the children who are immunised:
- 1 in 2 will have a fever
- 1 in 10 will get discomfort, redness or swelling where the injection was given or will have a fever
- 1 in 100 may get a high fever
- Children usually recover from these minor side effects within a day or two
Serious side effects (severe allergy) are very rare.
How to manage fever after MenB vaccine
When MenB vaccine is given with the other childhood vaccines at 2 and 4 month visits, there is a higher risk that the baby will develop a fever. Fever after MenB vaccine typically rises over the first 6 hours and then reduces until 24 hours, when most fevers will be gone.
Babies at their 2 and 4 month vaccinations should be given 3 doses of liquid infant paracetamol after each visit to reduce this fever.
Dose 1 should be given at or just after the vaccine is given.
Dose 2 should be given 4-6 hours after dose 1 and
Dose 3 should be given a further 4-6 hours after dose 2.
A dose of 2.5mls (60mg) of liquid infant paracetamol suspension should be given to babies.
It is important that babies are not given paracetamol prior to vaccination, as the GP or practice nurse will need to be able to assess that the baby is well to receive the immunisations.
Paracetamol will not stop your baby getting a fever however the paracetamol will help reduce and shorten your baby’s fever.
Babies less than 4kg (8lb 8oz) at the time of vaccination should be given a smaller dose of liquid infant paracetamol. Please talk to your GP to calculate the dose your baby needs.
Paracetamol does not need to be routinely given at the 12 month visit for the MenB vaccine, as a babies’ risk of fever after the vaccine at this age is no different to the risk of fever after any other routine childhood vaccines.
Ibuprofen is not recommended.
Paracetamol suppositories are not recommended.
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How does meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine work?
MenB vaccine contains extracts from the meningococcal B bacteria. The vaccine works by making the body's immune system respond to the bacteria, without causing disease.
How effective is the MenB vaccine?
MenB vaccine has been shown to very effective and safe, providing 88% protection against MenB bacteria types.
Where can I find out more?
You can ask for further information regarding immunisation from your G.P., Public Health Nurse or local health office.
In addition the links below provide some more detailed information:
This page was updated on 12 July 2022