Health

Where to get a free meningitis shot in LA and Orange counties

A doctor gives free meningitis vaccinations at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in 2013. The organization is one of those currently offering the immunization.
A doctor gives free meningitis vaccinations at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in 2013. The organization is one of those currently offering the immunization.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Listen to story

03:43
Download this story 1MB

People hanging out this past Saturday night at Velvet Lounge, a gay bar in Santa Ana, might have been surprised by a special offer: Along with drinks, gay and bisexual men could also get a free meningitis shot inside the venue.

The event was the first in a series of pop-up vaccination clinics that the Orange County Health Care Agency plans to hold at gay bars and clubs during August and September. It was a hit, with 31 people getting the shot and many expressing appreciation that the agency was there, says Jenna Sarin, the health care agency's division manager for family health.

The clinics are part of larger push by Los Angeles and Orange County health officials to get all gay and bisexual men vaccinated against meningitis. There are always a few cases in a typical year, but there's been a spike since March: 22 in L.A. and Orange Counties, two of them fatal. Most of the patients have been gay or bisexual men.

In L.A. County, the Board of Supervisors last month directed the public health department to develop a comprehensive meningitis vaccination, information and outreach campaign.

Here are answers to your questions about meningitis

The vaccination protects against meningococcal disease, which usually causes meningitis or a blood stream infection.

Symptoms of meningitis usually occur within five days. They include high fever, stiff neck, skin rash, severe headache, low blood pressure, sensitivity to bright lights and generalized muscle pains. The infection can cause brain damage, hearing loss and death. It progresses quickly, so immediate diagnosis and treatment is imperative, health experts say. 

Designing a vaccination campaign to target a specific group of people - gay and bisexual men - "certainly is a challenge," says Marc Meulman, the Orange County agency's division manager for disease control and epidemiology. But, he adds, "I think the upside is there are venues that cater specifically to this population, so we want to take advantage of that."

And in case you were wondering: It's safe to drink alcohol after getting the meningitis shot, according to Dr. Matthew Zahn, Orange County's medical director of epidemiology and assessment. He says alcohol will not compromise the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Here's where gay and bisexual men can get immunized in L.A. and Orange Counties:

Los Angeles County

People with health insurance and those who are HIV-positive and eligible for the Ryan White Program should see their doctor to get the meningitis vaccine. Free meningococcal vaccinations are available at the following locations, according to the LA Department of Public Health:

Orange County

The Orange County Health Care Agency says gay and bisexual men should talk to their medical provider about getting the vaccination. Shots are also available for free at the county's upcoming pop-up clinics:

The Health Care Agency says those who are uninsured or whose insurance does not cover the vaccine can also get the shot at low or no cost through the county at one of these locations: