New findings show effectiveness of meningococcal B vaccine against gonorrhoea

Helen Marshall AM sits and smiles.

Researchers at The University of Adelaide have found that the meningococcal B vaccine could improve protection against gonorrhoea in addition to protection against meningococcal B meningitis. 

This significant finding, in a joint study with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, coincides with a rise in gonorrhoea cases globally and increasing bacterial resistance to drugs used to treat the infection.

Led by 2022 South Australian of the Year, University of Adelaide Professor of Vaccinology, and Women’s and Children’s Hospital Senior Medical Practitioner Helen Marshall AM, the observational study found that two doses of the meningococcal B vaccine were 33 per cent effective against gonorrhoea in adolescents and young adults.

Professor Marshall said the research aims to reduce not only gonorrhoea infection, but also the long-term effects of gonorrhoea, including infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and blindness in babies born to infected mothers.

“With more than 106 million cases of gonorrhoea worldwide, and increasing at a rapid rate... it is vital that we explore new and improved measures to battle this infection."Professor Helen Marshall AM

“With more than 106 million cases of gonorrhoea worldwide, and increasing at a rapid rate, the issue is firmly on the World Health Organisation’s agenda,” Professor Marshall said.

“This research will feed into WHO’s vaccine roadmap to evaluate the evidence about the ability of vaccines to prevent gonorrhoea. Traditionally, treatment for gonorrhoea has relied on antibiotics, but as these have become increasingly less effective due to antibiotic resistant strains, it is vital that we explore new and improved measures to battle this infection.

“In South Australia, where we have a state-funded meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine program for infants, children and adolescents since 2019, we have been able to observe that its effectiveness against gonorrhoea in adolescents is about 33 per cent. Two years after introduction of the state-funded MenB vaccine program, we are already observing high effectiveness against meningococcal B disease and also moderate effectiveness in preventing gonorrhoea.

“The unprecedented scale of South Australia’s MenB vaccination programme offers valuable real-world evidence of the vaccine’s effectiveness against meningococcal B meningitis in children and adolescents, and gonorrhoea in adolescents and young people. This information is vital to inform global meningitis vaccination programmes and policy decisions.”

Left unchecked, gonorrhoea can spread to the blood and cause disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI). DGI is usually characterised by arthritis, tenosynovitis, and/or dermatitis and, ultimately, the condition can be life threatening. Professor Marshall’s research has been published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

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