The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated its recommendations for who should receive the meningococcal vaccine and at what age.
In its first statement on meningococcal vaccines since 2011, the academy notes that three such vaccines are now licensed for use down into infancy. They are deemed appropriate for youngsters age 2 months and older with immune deficiencies, missing spleens, sickle cell disease or other higher infection risks. Other young children don't need the shots, the guidelines say.
Those same meningococcal vaccines and boosters, long recommended for children 11 and older, should continue to be given to those kids, the academy stated.
"We needed to have new recommendations so that pediatricians would understand how to use these vaccines in young infants and children, since they're now available," said guidelines author Dr. Michael Brady, associate medical director at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
"We're telling pediatricians that we don't feel it's necessary to give this vaccination routinely to young children," he added, "but for children with select risks, it's a good vaccine to give."
Meningococcal disease can be fatal. Up to 15 percent of people infected die and about one in five who survive ends up with permanent disabilities such as brain damage, hearing loss or limb amputations.
Meningococcal meningitis is a rare but very serious infection. It causes the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord to become inflamed. Each year, approximately 1,000 people in the U.S. get meningococcal disease, which includes meningitis and septicemia (blood infection).
The "B" strain is the most common strain in the U.S. and that's the strain that typically infects children than 11. It's also the strain that caused a meningitis outbreak at Princeton University and killed a student from Drexel University in Philadelphia who had been in close contact with Princeton students.
There is no FDA approved vaccine of the B strain. College students at Princeton & Drexel were given emergency approval to use meningitis vaccines licensed in other countries.
Brady noted that the meningitis outbreaks on college campuses over the last year from the "B" strain are not unexpected, since conditions are ripe for the disease to be transmitted among those living communally in dorms or military barracks. Higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption are also associated with greater risks of contracting meningitis.
Young children with compromised immune systems should also receive the vaccine. Updated recommendations said booster doses should be given after three years in high-risk children whose last dose was before age 7, while booster doses should be administered after five years in children whose last dose was at age 7 or older.
Dr. Melissa Stockwell, a pediatrician at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia's Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, said parents should know that meningococcal vaccinations are the best way to prevent the infection.
While parents don't need to understand all the subtypes of meningitis, she said, they should consult their child's pediatrician to make sure all appropriate immunizations are administered.
"For adolescents, young adults and the younger ones with special [vulnerabilities] -- we want to make sure if you're one of these groups, you're vaccinated," said Stockwell.
The AAP's updated recommendations were published in the journal Pediatrics in July.
Sources: Maureen Salamon, http://consumer.healthday.com/diseases-and-conditions-information-37/misc-diseases-and-conditions-news-203/pediatricians-urge-meningitis-shots-for-vulnerable-infants-children-690147.html