Meningococcal disease, or bacterial meningitis, is a rare and potentially deadly disease marked by the inflammation of the thin tissue that envelopes the brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges. (Viral meningitis, a less serious form of the disease, is the result of a virus entering the body through the nose or mouth and traveling to the brain.) Beginning with bacteria that mimic a cold-like infection, bacterial meningitis can quickly block blood vessels and lead to stroke and brain damage. Some telltale symptoms of the disease include a sudden fever, a severe headache, and a stiff neck.

How Serious Is Meningitis?

Nearly 3,000 cases of bacterial meningitis occur every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the fatality rate is between 10 and 12 percent. For those who do survive, nearly one-fifth suffer lifelong disabilities, such as brain damage, kidney disease, hearing loss, or limb amputations. Although bacterial meningitis can strike anyone, close to 30 percent of all U.S. cases affect adolescents and young adults; however, experts believe that the majority of cases among adolescents are vaccine-preventable. Kids at camp and freshmen living in college dorms are also particularly susceptible to the disease.

What steps can you take to protect your child against this potentially fatal disease? Read on for a list of resources available for free or subsidized vaccinations as well as an important immunization fact sheet.

Free or Subsidized Vaccines

Vaccines for Children (VFC) is a federally funded program implemented in 1994 that provides free vaccines for children who cannot otherwise afford them. The funding for the program is approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and allocated through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to the CDC. The CDC purchases vaccines at a discount and distributes them to grantees (i.e., state health departments and certain local and territorial public health agencies), which, in turn, distribute them at no charge to those private physicians' offices and public health clinics registered as VFC providers. Children who are eligible for VFC vaccines are entitled to receive pediatric vaccines that are recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. For more information on this program, visit:

Most colleges also provide these vaccines for free, or they charge less than $75. If you have any questions, you can call the CDC-INFO Contact Center at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636). This toll-free line, open 24 hours seven days a week, provides information on immunization in both English and Spanish.

Meningitis Immunizations

Some forms of bacterial meningitis are preventable with the following vaccinations. Call the CDC Contact Center at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) to learn more about receiving these vaccinations for free or at a discounted price.

  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine.
  • Children in the United States regularly receive this vaccine as part of the recommended schedule of vaccines, beginning at about 2 months of age. The vaccine is also recommended for certain adults, including those with sickle cell disease or AIDS and those with no spleen.

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7).
  • This vaccine is also part of the routine immunization schedule for children less than 2 years of age in the United States. It's additionally recommended for children between the ages of 2 and 5 who are at high risk of pneumococcal disease (a leading cause of serious illness in children and adults, contributing to conditions such as pneumonia, ear infections, and meningitis) and those with chronic heart or lung disease or cancer.

  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4).
  • The CDC recommends that a single dose of MCV4 (Menactra®) be administered to children ages 11 to 12 or to any children ages 11 to 18 who haven't yet been vaccinated. This vaccine can also be given to younger children who are at high risk of bacterial meningitis or who have been exposed to someone with the disease. It is approved for use in children as young as 2 years old.

  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV).
  • This vaccine is for older children and adults who need protection from pneumococcal bacteria, one of the leading causes of serious conditions such as pneumonia, ear infections, and meningitis. The CDC recommends the PPV vaccine for all adults above the age of 65 and for younger adults and children who have weak immune systems, chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes or sickle cell anemia, and those with no spleen.

Remember, call the CDC Contact Center at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) to learn more about receiving these vaccinations for free or at a discounted price.

Additional Resources

The National Meningitis Association (NMA) can be found at, or you can call 866-FONE-NMA (866-366-3662) The organization provides many free resources for meningitis treatment, prevention, and awareness including information on:


  • The Parent Teacher Awareness Program:
  • This initiative helps parents and local PTAs implement meningococcal disease education initiatives in their schools and communities.

  • "Moms on Meningitis" (M.O.M.s):
  • A coalition of mothers across the country whose children's lives have been drastically affected by meningococcal disease, M.O.M.s supports NMA in its efforts to educate local parents, adolescents, young adults, and surrounding communities about meningococcal disease and prevention through media outreach and community activities. To contact the NMA, which sponsors the program, call 1-866-FONE-NMA (1-866-366-3662).

  • S.T.O.P Meningitis!:
  • This program, whose name stands for "Share. Teach. Outreach. Protect.," helps clinicians and other health-care providers implement new meningococcal disease immunization recommendations for adolescents and young adults.

  • Summer Camp Program:
  • The National Meningitis Association (NMA) has developed resources for camp directors to help educate camp counselors and staff about meningococcal disease and prevention, as well as to help recognize its symptoms to ensure the health and safety of the camp community.

  • Together Educating About Meningitis (T.E.A.M.):
  • This unique volunteer program is dedicated to educating the public about meningococcal disease in an effort to protect families across the country from experiencing the devastating effects of this disease. To contact the NMA, which sponsors the program, call 1-866-FONE-NMA (1-866-366-3662).

  • Partnership Opportunities:
  • The NMA welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with corporations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and others to expand the reach of important messaging regarding meningococcal disease awareness, prevention, and the urgency of immediate treatment following diagnosis.

Health Insurance for Children

If you can't afford health insurance for your children, you do have options. One choice is Medicaid, which is for low-income adults and children (the rules about who qualifies for Medicaid vary from state to state). There's also another program designed specifically to insure kids--even if their families don't qualify for Medicaid. The program is called the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and provides free or low-cost health insurance to kids under 18 who don't have any insurance. Each state comes up with its own rules, but in general, a family of four who earns less than $34,000 a year will qualify. To find out more, call 877-KIDS-NOW (877-543-7669) or visit this web site: