Prevention is the Bedrock of Pediatric Care – Including Meningococcal Vaccine

by Fozia Bakshi, MD

As a pediatrician, I take pride in being an advocate for the wellbeing of all children, and I urge parents to consider immunization to protect their children against preventable diseases.

The bedrock of pediatric care is prevention. This includes eating a balanced diet, getting enough exercise and rest, and getting necessary vaccinations. Chief among medical advances over the past century has been the development of vaccines. In a matter of decades, many life-threatening diseases became entirely preventable through vaccination efforts.

A new initiative in New York State includes public and private schools requiring students entering 7th and 12th grades to be fully vaccinated against meningococcal disease in order to attend school as of September 1, 2016. There is far greater protection from the spread of bacterial meningitis if children are first vaccinated at age 11, rather than 18.

Why does my child need this vaccine?

The meningococcal vaccine is the best protection from a very serious disease which teens and young adults are at highest risk of getting.

Meningococcal disease spreads easily in large groups and dormitory-like settings. An infected person or carrier can spread the disease by coughing or sneezing directly into the face of others, by kissing a person on the mouth, or by sharing drinks.

What is Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal disease is a disease that can strike healthy young people without much warning. It is caused by a bacterium, Neisseria meningitis, which can lead into infection of the blood, called sepsis. When the linings of the brain and spinal cord get inflamed, this is termed meningitis. Even when caught early and treated promptly with IV antibiotics in an intensive care unit, about 10-15% of people who get infected die. Another 10-20% suffers lifelong disabilities such as hearing loss, loss of arms or legs, or brain damage.

Are the vaccines safe and effective?

Meningococcal vaccines are safe and 85 to 100% effective. They may cause mild and infrequent side effects, such as redness and pain at the injection site lasting up to two days.The vaccine does not contain live bacteria. Therefore it cannot cause meningococcal disease.

The vaccine is administered as a shot. One dose of the meningococcal vaccine is required before 7th grade and the 2nd dose is required before 12th grade. Most students entering 12th grade got their first dose when they were younger and are now due for their second dose, or booster, which is necessary because protection from the vaccine decreases over time.

The only teens not needing a second dose before 12th grade are those who got their first dose on or after their 16th birthday.

How can I pay for the vaccine?

All private insurance plans regulated by NYS are required to cover the cost of all vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for patients through age 18.

A federal program called Vaccines for Children (VFC) may help pay for your child’s vaccines if the child is 18 or younger.