A Guide to Meningococcal Vaccines in Canada

April 21, 2023

Meningococcal diseases, like meningitis and septicemia, occur at relatively low rates in Canada, but enough that they are considered endemic. And the disease is often fatal for those that contract it, while those that survive it often suffer from life-long repercussions. This is one of the reasons that meningococcal vaccines are part of the routine immunization of children.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of meningococcal vaccines that are available in Canada, recommendations regarding them, and how you can get vaccinated against meningococcal diseases. But before we get to that, let’s provide a brief overview of the disease itself.

What Is a Meningococcal Disease?

Meningococcal diseases are acute diseases caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Almost all invasive meningococcal diseases (IMDs) are caused by serogroups (a grouping of bacteria based on their surface antigens) A, B, C, Y, and W-135 of Neisseria meningitidis.

They can cause meningitis (infections of the spinal cord and lining of the brain) and septicemia (infections of the bloodstream) or both. IMDs have an overall mortality rate of approximately 10%. About 1/3 of survivors of meningococcal diseases suffer from hearing loss, neurological disabilities, or have had their digits or limbs amputated.

Symptoms of IMD may include:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Photophobia
  • Drowsiness

How Is It Transmitted?

IMD is transmitted via close person-to-person contact, through the respiratory droplets of an infected person. The most common ways of transmission are coughing, sneezing, and kissing. IMD can also be transmitted through saliva, such as when persons share utensils, drinks, lipsticks, etc.

What Types of Meningococcal Vaccines Are Available in Canada for Routine Immunization?

There are three basic types of meningococcal vaccines in Canada:

Meningococcal Conjugated C (Men-C-C) vaccine – part of the regular immunization of children in Canada. Given to healthy children less than 12 months of age, in accordance with provincial and territorial schedules. Also given to children 12 months to 11 years of age. Protects from meningococcal diseases caused by the C strain. This vaccine is required for school attendance.

Meningococcal-C-ACYW (Men-C-ACYW) vaccine – part of the regular immunization of school children. Routinely given at 12 years of age. This quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine protects from A, C, Y, and W strains of the disease. Students 12 to 17 years old need the Men-C-ACYW vaccine for school attendance. Re-vaccination is recommended every 3-5 years for children vaccinated at 6 or younger and every 5 years for people vaccinated at 7 or older. More frequent vaccination may be required for travelers, such as visitors to Saudi Arabia for Umrah or Hajj.

Meningococcal B (Men-B) vaccine – this vaccine is not publicly funded for childhood immunization. Protects from the B strain of IMD. This vaccine is provided to persons 2 months of age or older that have had potential exposure to meningococcal B diseases. It is also recommended to persons that are at high risk due to certain medical preconditions, to persons whose occupation puts them at high risk of contracting meningococcal B diseases, and to persons traveling to areas considered high risk for meningococcal B diseases.  

How Does a Meningococcal Vaccine Work?

Meningococcal vaccines introduce a small, harmless amount of the dead bacteria into your body, thereby producing an immune response, i.e., it stimulates your body to produce antibodies that are specifically designed to fight off the disease. These antibodies stay in your bloodstream for a certain amount of time and protect you from meningococcal infections.

Are There Any Side Effects?

All medicines can have side effects, but vaccines are generally considered safe. Many people experience no side effects at all, while those that do are usually mild and last for 1 – 2 days. Some of the more common side effects are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Muscle ache
  • Tenderness, swelling, and/or redness at the injection site

These side effects are more common for children younger than 2 that have received the Men-B vaccine alongside other routine vaccines.

Some people experience a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the throat and tongue, and it can be fatal. However, anaphylaxis as a result of vaccination is rare – it occurs 0.7 to 1.3 times per one million vaccinations.

So, approximately one person in a million may experience this type of allergic reaction. Medical staff that administers vaccines is trained to treat anaphylaxis. This is why it is recommended to wait for 15 – 30 minutes at the clinic where you received your vaccine to minimize any chance of adverse effects.

If you do experience an allergic reaction, contact a medical provider immediately. Additionally, if you have had an allergic reaction to a previous dose of a meningococcal vaccine, consult your medical provider before getting another dose. Additionally, medications can interact with one another. Inform your doctor of any medication you are taking before receiving the vaccine.

Get Vaccinated at Your Convenience

At Everest Whole Health Pharmacy, you can easily get vaccinated for many types of diseases, either as part of your regular immunization or vaccines for travel. This includes the following meningococcal vaccines:

  • Menjugate – provides protection from meningococcal group C bacteria. Intended for use for children older than 2 months of age, adolescents, and adults.
  • Menactra – provides protection from meningococcal group A, C, Y, and W-135 bacteria. Approved for use in persons 9 months to 55 years of age.
  • Menomune – provides protection from meningococcal group A, C, Y, and W-135 bacteria. Approved for use in persons 2 years of age and older.

You can schedule a vaccination appointment at our Toronto pharmacy online. If you have any questions regarding meningococcal vaccines or are interested in anything else regarding your medication, feel free to contact us to talk to an expert.


About the Author: Remtulla Kumail

Hi there, my name is Kumail Remtulla and I'm a pharmacist with over 10 years of experience in both the UK and Canada. I grew up in Toronto, Ontario and decided to pursue my pharmacy degree in the UK back in 2004. After graduating, I worked for Boots UK for 5 years before moving back to Toronto in 2015. Once back in Canada, I completed the pharmacy bridging program and continued working as a pharmacist.