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The older, more common vaccine (which protects against strains A, C, W-135 and Y) works by training the body’s immune cells to recognize the sugar on the meningitis-causing bacteria as something bad, Orenstein tells Shots.
The same approach won’t work for the B-type bacteria.
When immune cells encounter the meningitis B sugar coating, they’re more likely to identify it as belonging to a friend rather than a foe, Orenstein says. They’re used to seeing the same sugar all over the human cells.
There are ways to teach our immune system that the meningitis B coating is bad, but that could be risky, he says. In the hunt for meningitis bacteria, the immune system could start attacking human cells by mistake.