What vaccines are there for meningitis?

Vaccines save lives. The most effective thing you can do to protect yourself and your children from meningitis is to take up the immunisations available to you.

Meningitis affects more than 2.5 million people globally each year. It can happen to anyone, anywhere at any time. It is difficult to diagnose and can kill within hours.

Vaccination is a safe way to develop protection against some of the common causes of meningitis. Immunising those at greatest risk of becoming ill helps to protect them from the disease, prevent its spread within communities and ultimately benefits the population as a whole.

Thanks to meningitis vaccines, millions of lives have been saved worldwide and impressive strides have been made towards defeating meningitis and septicaemia. However, not all causes of meningitis and septicaemia are vaccine preventable so being able to recognise the symptoms is vital.

What is meningitis and why are vaccines needed?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges - the lining of the brain and spinal cord. It’s most commonly caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections. Symptoms develop quickly, causing a rapid deterioration to a person’s health.

Viral infections are very rarely life-threatening. Most people recover with no noticeable after effects, but for some people it can result in long-term ill health, which can be life-changing.

Severe cases of meningitis are most often caused by bacterial infection.

Bacterial meningitis can occur when bacteria enter the bloodstream after breaking through the body’s protective linings, such as the nose and throat. After invading the blood and multiplying, the bacteria can travel to the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) – the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. In the CSF, the bacteria can cause inflammation and swelling in the meninges and brain tissue. Meningitis can also occur alongside other life-threatening infections such as blood poisoning (septicaemia) which can trigger sepsis, an overwhelming body response to infection that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death.

Vaccinations for those at most risk offer a safe way for their bodies to develop protection against some of the most common causes of the disease and reduce the potential for infections to spread within the population.

Who needs vaccinations to protect against meningitis and when should you have them?

Meningitis vaccinations are routinely offered to those who are:

  • At greatest risk of infection (this includes babies and young children, whose immune systems are still developing, and people with certain medical conditions which increase their risk of developing meningitis)

  • Those who are the most likely to harmlessly carry the bacteria in their nose and throat and unknowingly spread the bacteria amongst the wider population (this includes teenagers)

To give your loved ones the best chance at a healthy life it’s important to know what meningitis vaccines are available. Download and save “Which meningitis vaccine and when” to know what vaccines you should have to protect against meningitis if you live in the UK, from 8 weeks to 65 years. You can check global vaccine schedules on the World Health Organization website.

What protection do meningitis vaccines offer and is there a vaccine to prevent against all types of meningitis?

There is not one vaccine which protects against the many different causes of meningitis.

There are however several immunisations for those at greatest risk to protect against bacterial and viral infections – the two leading causes of the disease.

Vaccine protection against bacterial causes of meningitis (UK)

There are several vaccines available that protect against some of the common causes of life-threatening bacterial meningitis and septicaemia: meningococcal, pneumococcal and Hib.

Meningitis vaccines available in the UK and Ireland

The vaccines that are available which offer protection against meningococcal bacteria are:

  • Men ACWY which is offered to teenagers between 13-15

A year after the emergency roll out of the vaccine in 2015 there were 69% fewer MenW cases than expected.

  • Men B which is offered to babies at 8 and 16 weeks with a booster aged one.

In a world first, it was offered as part of the UK’s routine vaccination schedule in 2015.

  • Men C which is offered to children aged 12-13 months (as a combined MenC/Hib vaccine) with a booster dose (with the MenC containing vaccine, Men ACWY) for teenagers at 14.

The UK was the first country in the world to introduce the MenC vaccine to the routine immunisation schedule in 1999.

Men ACWY Factsheet - UK

Men ACWY Factsheet - Ireland

Men B Factsheet

There is also a vaccine to protect against an infection caused by Hemophilus influenza bacteria. The Hib vaccine was a scientific breakthrough in prevention, as the first conjugate vaccine to offer effective protection to babies against bacterial meningitis. 

Hib containing vaccines are offered to babies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks with a MenC/Hib booster given at 12 months. This Hib/MenC booster is offered to maintain protection. It was introduced to keep disease levels low after research showed that protection waned during the first year of life, leading to a resurgence in cases. Read more in our Hib factsheet.  

There are over 90 different strains of pneumococcal bacteria and two vaccines that offer protection against the most common causes of serious disease. They are: 

  • PCV13 which is offered to babies at 12 weeks with a booster at age 1 
  • PPV23 was introduced in 2004 and is offered to people aged 65 or over, and for risk groups aged 2 years and over. 

Read more in our pneumococcal vaccination factsheet.

Vaccine protection against viral causes of meningitis (UK)

Young children are offered the MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella (which can cause some types of viral meningitis). MMR is offered at aged one and then a second dose is given to toddlers at three years and four months.

Meningitis vaccinations available around the world  

Immunisation schedules are tailored to each country. They are shaped by factors such as how widespread disease is within the area, and the age groups most likely to be affected by disease. You can find out more about global vaccination on the World Health Organization website

Meningitis vaccinations: frequently asked questions

Where can you get meningitis vaccinations?

Pneumococcal and Hib vaccinations are offered as part of most routine vaccination schedules around the world. Some countries also have routine meningococcal vaccination schedules.

Details of vaccination schedules can be found here:

How can I check what vaccinations my family have had and what do I do if myself or my child has missed a vaccination?

If you are living in the UK and are unsure about what vaccinations you, or your child, may have had previously speak to your GP.

Your local surgery will be able to confirm what immunisations you have had and provide guidance on what you may need and how to arrange it.

Are meningitis vaccines safe?

Yes. Vaccine safety is carefully established in clinical trials before vaccines are introduced and by close monitoring throughout their use.

For serious life-threatening diseases such as meningitis and septicaemia, acquiring immunity through immunisation is a far safer way to get protected than risking exposure to the diseases.

Since the introduction of the first meningitis vaccine more than 30 years ago, millions of doses have been administered to people worldwide saving countless numbers of lives.

Vaccinations have also changed the course of history by informing our response to disease control and prevention, with research findings and ongoing surveillance shaping routine immunisation schedules.

More detailed information on the safety of each vaccine can be found in our vaccine factsheets (you can access these by going to the section above, on types of meningitis vaccines and the protection they offer for which ages).

Can you still get meningitis if you have been vaccinated?

There are many different strains of bacteria and viruses that can cause meningitis. Although there aren’t vaccines to prevent against all forms of the disease, there are several immunisations which are routinely available around the world to provide protection against the most common causes of the disease and significantly reduce the chance of infection. Even if someone is fully vaccinated, as we can’t immunise everyone against all forms of the disease, it’s really important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia. Immunisation awareness and prevention are all key to preventing this disease.

What if I would like a meningitis vaccination but I would not be offered a vaccination as part of the routine immunisation schedule?

Vaccinations are routinely offered to those at greatest risk of disease. Conjugate vaccines also indirectly protect the wider population by stopping those who are vaccinated from carrying, and transmitting the bacteria.

However, meningitis is such a deadly and disabling disease that some may wish to be protected however small the risk of them contracting the disease. For example, for some vaccines in the UK, such as MenB and MenACWY, there is the option to pay privately to receive it at a local clinic or pharmacy.

Where can I find further information about meningitis vaccines?

As part of our support services, MRF offers a helpline for those living in the UK and Ireland which can assist with any queries you may have around vaccinations.

There are also other organisations, like the Oxford Vaccination knowledge project, which offers independent information about vaccinations and infectious diseases, as well as the World Health Organization which provides data around vaccinations and global immunisation schedules.

Help spread life-saving awareness with our free resources

Every year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) coordinates World Immunization Week (24-30th April). To help spread the word please visit our World Immunization Week page where you can find information and resources you can share.