Side Effects of the Meningococcal Vaccine

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine causes relatively few side effects for the vast majority of people getting this vaccine. Pain at the injection site is a common reaction after vaccination, as well as mild irritability and headache (as reported by older children). Injection-site pain and swelling occurred in 45 percent and 17 percent of people, respectively. Fever occurred in about 5 percent of individuals after receiving the meningococcal vaccine.

Alert

If you experienced Guillain Barré Syndrome in the past, you should not receive the meningococcal vaccine as it may trigger the same reaction again. Definitely tell your doctor about this reaction if you have a history of Guillain Barré Syndrome.

Even though the meningococcal vaccine is very safe most of the time, a few people have come down with a rare but serious condition called Guillain Barré Syndrome after getting the meningococcal vaccine. While Guillain Barré Syndrome is rare and other illnesses can trigger this reaction, people who receive the meningococcal vaccine seem to have a slightly greater chance of getting this reaction after the shot. About one in a million people may experience this reaction after receiving this vaccine. For additional discussion on Guillain Barré Syndrome, please refer to Chapter 3 regarding vaccine reactions.

Guillain Barré Syndrome is when one's own immune system attacks the nerves in the spinal cord. It can cause loss of sensation and paralysis of the arms, legs, and face. The paralysis is usually temporary, but it can last many weeks to months. More than 85 percent of the people with Guillain Barré Syndrome recover completely, but some have residual weakness in their extremities. Very few people with Guillain Barré Syndrome die from the reaction because supportive treatments are available to assist breathing during the worst phase of the reaction.

Understandably, knowing the possibility of paralysis that could be caused by this vaccine could make you think twice about vaccinating your child with it. On the other hand, the threat of meningitis is also very real in adolescents. As mentioned before, 10 to 25 percent of healthy people harbor this bacterium and can pass it to others. It is impossible to predict who might fall ill next. Keep in mind that more than 2,500 people are infected by meningococcus annually in the United States, while the chance of getting Guillain Barré Syndrome from the vaccine is one in a million. Deciding whether to get the vaccine is a matter of comparing the odds.

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