The Meningitis B vaccine

Meningococcal disease is a very rapid bacterial infection that can be fatal (in 1 out of every 10 people infected) within a few hours if untreated. It can cause meningitis (swelling of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord), septicaemia (blood infection), and permanent physical disabilities and brain damage. It most commonly affects teenagers and young adults. A leading cause of meningococcal disease are the Neisseria meningitidis group B bacteria (commonly known as meningitis B), and there is a now a vaccine available that can prevent this infection.

Ireland has one of the highest rates of invasive meningococcal disease in Europe. Meningococcal disease has a high mortality rate and can cause permanent disability.

Meningitis B and meningitis C bacteria caused 99% of all meningococcal diseases in Ireland until 2000 when a vaccine against meningitis C was made available. Since then, the number of meningitis C infections have reduced dramatically and the majority of meningococcal infections have been caused by meningitis B bacteria.

In Ireland the BexSero vaccine (produced by Novartis) for MenB was introduced to the infant vaccination schedule at the end of 2016. The MenB vaccine will prevent nearly 90% of infections by meningitis B and will reduce the number of cases of serious meningococcal disease.

If you suspect meningitis, seek medical attention immediately.

It has taken many years of research to develop a vaccine against meningitis B. The meningitis B-causing bacteria are very good at hiding from your immune system because of a coating of sugar over their surface that makes the body think that the bacteria are your own cells. The vaccine (Bexsero, produced by Novartis) contains 4 proteins that are usually on the surface of the bacteria (it is a subunit vaccine). The vaccine does not contain live bacteria. In Ireland, the Bexsero vaccine has been available privately since 2013 and was added to the Irish vaccination schedule at the end of 2016.

In Ireland, babies born on or after 1st Oct 2016 are given the MenB vaccine at 2, 4 and 12 months of age. The vaccine can be given at the same time as most of the routine baby vaccinations, although there is a slightly higher chance of a fever afterwards (it is recommended that you give your baby infant paracetamol after the vaccination).

The Meningitis Research Foundation has a very good website offering detailed information on meningitis and vaccines:

Most common side effects are mild and temporary. They are a result of the child's immune system responding to the vaccination, and making antibodies that will protect the child in the future. Most side effects will ease after a day or two and any discomfort can be treated with over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (ask your pharmacist for medicine appropriate for your child's age).

Before getting the vaccination, speak to your doctor if your child has been sick or 'off form' over the past few days. Illness can reduce the effectiveness of a vaccine. The nurse or doctor administering the vaccine will check your child's temperature first, to see if they may have any other infections or illnesses.

Common side effects of Bexsero in babies that are usually no cause for concern: soreness at the injection site, high temperature, mild rash (usually only in children aged 1-2 years), sleepiness,vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and irritability.

Other rarer side effects of Bexsero in babies include a very high temperature (over 40oC), seizures (including febrile seizures caused by fever), vomiting after the booster vaccination, dry skin and paleness. These side effects are rare and have been reported in very few children.

Older children (over 11 years of age) and adults can have slightly different side effects including painful muscles and joints, nausea and headache.

Remember that the benefits of receiving vaccines that protect your child from serious diseases hugely outweigh any mild side effects from vaccination.

If you are concerned about your child, contact your doctor or local hospital for advice.

Allergies to substances within vaccines can occur, though they are very rare (they happen in fewer than 1 in 10,000 people receiving the vaccine). An allergic reaction to a vaccine would happen quickly - probably before you left the GP's surgery. Signs of an allergic reaction may include itchy skin, rash, shortness of breath and swelling of the face or tongue.

Before getting the vaccination, speak to your doctor if your child has experienced any allergic reactions previously.

If you are concerned about your child, contact your doctor or local hospital for advice.

Vaccines are tested exhaustively before they are provided to the public (it normally takes 10-15 years to develop a new vaccine). Bexsero (meningitis B vaccine produced by Novartis) was licenced for use in Europe in 2013. Clinical trials were carried out initially on over 5,000 children in several countries (clinical trials are used to assess the safety of the vaccine and to collect data on possible side effects, such as those listed above).

Bexsero is now licensed in more than 37 countries worldwide and more than 5 million doses have been distributed. Bexsero is included in childhood immunisation programmes in Ireland, the UK, and the USA, and several other countries have recommended its use (including Australia, Austria and the Czech Republic) though they have not yet included it in their national immunisation programmes.

Information on meningococcal B infection and vaccination from the HSE (Ireland):

Information on MenB vaccination from the Meningitis Research Foundation:

Information on meningococcal B infection and vaccination from the NHS (UK):

Information on meningococcal vaccines from the CDC (USA):

Bexsero MenB vaccine Patient Information Leaflet:

Bexsero MenB vaccine Summary of Product Characteristics: