Record cases of gonorrhoea have led doctors to recommend to the government that they roll out the world’s first ever vaccine, with people most at risk set to be eligible for the jab
England is set to offer the world’s first ever gonorrhoea jab following a huge rise in cases.
Top doctors on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have advised the government to launch the programme to deal with the “increasing threat” posed by the sexually transmitted infection.
This would use the MenB vaccine, which has previously been given to children for meningitis and septicaemia – but is also effective in preventing gonorrhoea. It will be offered to members of the population most at risk.
Stats for last year showed gonorrhoea diagnoses are the highest since records began in 1918. There were 82,592 diagnoses, an increase of 50.3% compared with 2021 (54,961), and 16.1% compared with 2019 (prior to the Covid-19 pandemic).
Common symptoms of gonorrhoea in men include yellowish, white or green discharge, a burning feeling and swelling of the foreskin. In women, it can cause a change in discharge, a burning feeling when urinating and bleeding between periods. It is easily passed between people through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, as well as sharing vibrators or other sex toys that have not been washed or covered with a new condom between uses. It can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby, and can cause permanent blindness in a newborn.
It is hoped that the new vaccine will help reduce the levels of community transmission of the virus, while vaccinated individuals should expect to have some reduction in their risk of contracting it. Professor Andrew Pollard, Chair of the JCVI, said: “Introducing a MenB vaccination programme to prevent gonorrhoea in England would be a world first and should significantly help to reduce levels of gonorrhoea, which are currently at a record high. In addition, we are advising setting up a routine targeted mpox offer – to prevent a repeat of the large outbreak we saw in early 2022. Both vaccinations should be offered to those at highest risk.
Katy Sinka, Head of Sexually Transmitted Infections at UKHSA, said: “A vaccination programme to impact on gonorrhoea cases would be a hugely welcome intervention to ensure we are better prepared to address this increasing threat. We saw a rapid rise last year with more cases than ever before and with gonorrhoea becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, tackling this infection is a serious concern.
“And while mpox case numbers across England remain very low, we should not be complacent. Any routine vaccination offer to those at highest risk of infection will help ensure we remain on top of the disease and prevent any major future outbreaks.