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An Important New Recommendation for the Meningitis Vaccine

A new recommendation for Meningitis vaccine was recently passed by the CDC and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  It is now recommended that not only should all adolescents continue to receive a Meningitis Vaccine at age 11, but also receive a booster dose at age 16.

Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness. It is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children 2 through 18 years old in the United States. Meningitis is an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease also causes blood infections. About 1,000 – 2,600 people get meningococcal disease each year in the U.S. Even when they are treated with antibiotics, 10-15% of these people die. Of those who survive, another 11-19% lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have problems with their nervous systems, become mentally retarded, or suffer seizures or strokes.

Anyone can get meningococcal disease. But it is most common in infants less than one year of age and people with certain medical conditions, such as lack of a spleen. College freshmen that live in dormitories, and teenagers 15-19 have an increased risk of getting meningococcal disease. Meningococcal infections can be treated with drugs such as penicillin. Still, about 1 out of every ten people who get the disease dies from it, and many others are affected for life. This is why preventing the disease through use of meningococcal vaccine is important.  The current vaccine provides protection against two strains of Menigococcus, which are most common among young people in the U.S.

In 2005 the recommendation to vaccinate children at age 11-12 was made because it was felt that the immunity would last for at least 10 years, and studies show that children are more likely to go to the doctor at these younger ages than if we wait until mid-teen years.   Since this recommendation, the rate of meningitis in children age 12-15 has dropped nearly 75%, yet the rate for 16-18 year olds has only dropped slightly more than 25%.  There have even been some cases of meningitis in adolescents previously vaccinated.  The reason for this probably lies in the fact that when one is vaccinated, initially the body produces bacteria killing antibodies that circulate in the blood stream.  Over time, levels of these antibodies drop, but the immune system is left with “memory” to make new antibody when confronted by the bacteria.  The problem, however, is that the meningitis bacteria reproduce faster than the body can react with antibodies.  A booster vaccine leads to production of antibodies at substantially higher levels than the original vaccine.

The doctors at Pediatric Associates agree with these new recommendations and have begun to vaccinate 16-18 year olds with this new booster dose of Meningococcal vaccine.  Please call if you have further questions and to set up an appointment for an annual physical exam, and this important preventive care.

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