Meningococcal B vaccine may protect against gonorrhoea

With some strains of the common STI now resistant to all available drugs, the discovery provides new hope for a vaccine

A retrospective case-control study of more than 14,000 New Zealanders aged 15-30 has found exposure to the meningococcal group B vaccine was associated with reduced likelihood of contracting gonorrhoea, compared with unvaccinated people.

The vaccine had been administered to the cohort as part of a nationwide mass vaccination campaign, according to the study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

After adjusting for ethnicity, deprivation, geographic area and sex, those who received the vaccine had a reduced incidence of gonorrhoea by approximately 31% (95% CI 21-39).

So far, four clinical trials have failed to develop a vaccine against gonorrhoea – this is the first time a vaccine has shown any protection against the disease.

Population data from New Zealand, as well as Cuba and Norway, suggests there is a decline in gonorrhoea immediately after use of the outer membrane vesicle (OMV) meningococcal group B vaccine.

“Our findings provide experimental evidence and a proof of principle that an OMV meningococcal group B vaccine could offer moderate cross-protection against gonorrhoea,” says lead author Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, from the University of Auckland.

“At the moment, the mechanism behind this immune response is unknown, but our findings could inform future vaccine development for both the meningococcal and gonorrhoea vaccines.”

According to researchers, there is an 80-90% genetic match between the Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitides bacterial pathogens.

An increasing number of strains of N. gonorrhoeae have developed antimicrobial resistance to all drugs recommended for treatment.

Meanwhile in Australia there was a 29% to 146% increase in gonorrhoea in almost all states between 2010 and 2014.

Untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, as well as facilitate the transmission of HIV.

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