If you have a child age 16 and up, you should know about the serogroup B meningitis (MenB) vaccine because it can prevent MenB, a type of meningococcal disease. But a study in Pediatrics released Monday found not all primary care physicians have enough knowledge about the seriousness of MenB disease and the MenB vaccine to discuss with patients whether or not they should receive the vaccine. Men B, although rare, has emerged to the forefront over the past few years due to some highly publicized outbreaks among college campuses.

Generally in decline since the 1990s, meningococcal disease is highly contagious and caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. It can lead to meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and infections of the blood. Meningitis has about a 10 to 15 percent fatality rate and can often leave survivors with permanent issues such as hearing loss, brain damage, or kidney damage.

The disease has multiple different serogroups or types and currently we have a few vaccines with specific recommendations to prevent against some of these serogroups. Meningococcal disease can spread from person to person through close contact such as coughing or kissing or lengthy contact, especially among people living in the same household, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that 16- to 23-year-olds may be vaccinated with the MenB vaccine based on conversations during an appointment. However, the study's authors found:

  • Half of pediatricians and approximately a third of family physicians report often or always initiate a discussion about MenB vaccine for 16-to 18-year-olds.
  • Providers who initiate the discussion were more likely to give the vaccine rather then those who rarely discuss the vaccine.
  • There was a lack of familiarity with many aspects of MenB disease and MenB vaccination among primary care physicians.

What does this mean? If the conversation about MenB disease and MenB vaccine never occurs during the appointment, no vaccine will ever be given. This lack of interaction usually is not deliberate.

In this study, one of the main factors inhibiting this conversation may be a lack of familiarity of the disease and vaccine. This is where parents and caregivers can step in. If your child falls within the 16- to 23-year old age group, you can start the discussion with your provider.  The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages pediatricians to discuss the benefits, risks, and costs with patients and families and then "work with them to determine what is in their best interest." Ultimately, this will lead to a more informed decision that will benefit your child.