Houston meningitis cases prompt false claims about meningococcal vaccine safety

The Houston Health Department reported seven cases of meningitis between November 2023 and February 2024. In response to the rise in meningitis cases, the Texas Department of State Health Services issued an advisory encouraging Texans to stay up to date on vaccinations. Some comments on articles about the meningitis outbreak falsely blame immigrants for spreading the disease, while others falsely claim that meningococcal vaccines are unsafe.

Risk level: Medium

Recommendation: These types of false claims may discourage patients in Texas from staying up to date on meningococcal vaccines. They may also promote vaccine hesitancy among patients throughout the U.S. who encounter the claims online. Texas health officials say the increase in meningitis cases matches a statewide trend in flu infections, which can increase the risk of contracting meningococcal disease. Meningococcal vaccine coverage was less than 93 percent last school year, below the 95 percent target to maintain herd immunity. Messaging may emphasize that there are three different types of meningococcal vaccines, and all of them reduce the risk of developing meningitis. Adverse effects to these vaccines are rare. The CDC recommends the MenACWY vaccine for people between 11 and 12 years old, with a booster dose at 16 years, and for children and adults who are at an increased risk for meningococcal disease. The CDC recommends the MenB vaccine for people 10 years and older who are at an increased risk for meningococcal disease. The MenABCWY vaccine is an option for people 10 years and older who are getting the MenACWY and MenB vaccines at the same time.