Bacterial meningitis can be a devastating illness.

Complications can include hearing loss, blindness, brain damage, organ failure and even death.

There are vaccines to prevent this disease, but apparently, they wear off pretty quickly.

The government recommends a booster shot for 16 year-olds to protect against bacterial meningitis.

The two brands of vaccines that are currently given at age 11 don’t seem to work as well as hoped. Protection seems to wear off in about five years.

“It takes a period of time to realize that basically the protection wanes,” says Dr. Bruce Dixon of the Allegheny County Health Department.

Over this period of time, the levels of immune system proteins in response to the vaccine drop.

“You don’t want to wait until people are getting ill to find out they’re under-immunized,” Dr. Dixon points out.

The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices debated whether to delay the first dose or add the booster.

The disease is rare, but extremely debilitating, or even fatal. Current practice prevents nine deaths a year in the U.S. Delaying the vaccine would save 14 lives. Adding the booster would save 24.

The vaccine is about $100 a dose and paid for through taxes.

“It’s always an interesting question, ‘What’s the cost benefit? What’s the cost to prevent one illness?’

“You can look at it from an economic point of view, and yes, the cost of preventing one illness is quite high,” says Dr. Dixon. “On the other hand, if you happen to be one of the 24, it’s a 100 percent for you.”

The meningitis vaccine booster is not the only new change. The advisory committee is also recommending a whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus booster for people 11 to 64 years old.

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