Some strains of gonorrhoea are now resistant to all available drugs, making vaccine development an urgent global health priority

Exposure to the meningococcal group B vaccine during a New Zealand mass vaccination campaign was associated with a reduced likelihood of contracting gonorrhoea, compared with unvaccinated people, according to a new study of more than 14 000 people published in The Lancet on 10 July 2017.

First vaccine protection against gonorrhoea

This is the first time that a vaccine has shown any protection against gonorrhoea, and may provide a new avenue for vaccine development.

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If the effect is confirmed in other currently available and similar meningococcal group B vaccines, administering the vaccine in adolescence could result in significant declines in gonorrhoea, which has increasingly become drug resistant.

The importance of a vaccine candidate that may have even a moderate effect on reducing rates of infection is highlighted in a new report by The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal (10 July 2017) published this week which urges global policy action to address sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

A century of research

So far, efforts to develop a vaccine against gonorrhoea have been unsuccessful despite more than a century of research. Despite the two diseases being very different in terms of symptoms and mode of transmission, there is an 80 to 90% genetic match between the Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, providing a biologically plausible mechanism for cross-protection.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, University of Auckland, New Zealand, and lead author of the study says: “This is the first time a vaccine has shown any protection against gonorrhoea. 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.”

Co-author of the study, Professor Steven Black, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, USA, adds: “… [a vaccine] against gonorrhoea would have substantial public health benefits in view of the prevalence of gonorrhoea, and the increase in antibiotic resistance.”

The study is published alongside a Commission in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

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