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A vaccine that prevents meningococcal B infection may also be protective against the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea, according to an Oregon Health Authority (OHA) study published today in the scientific journal JAMA Network Open.


The study found that mass vaccination campaigns prompted by group B meningococcal virus outbreaks at the University of Oregon in 2015 and Oregon State University in 2016 may have reduced incidence of gonorrhea among some students who got vaccinated.

The study, titled “Association of Group B Meningococcal Vaccine Receipt With Reduced Gonorrhea Incidence Among University Students,” can be viewed at JAMA Network Open.

“The results of our study were consistent with other study findings around the world, which show vaccines that target specific components of meningococcal bacterial cells may go after those same components in gonorrhea cells,” said Steve Robison, an epidemiologist at the Oregon Immunization Program based at OHA’s Public Health Division who led the study.

Robison explained that both meningococcal cells and gonorrhea cells are closely related and share some genetic features that vaccines can target. One of the shared features – called an outer membrane vesicle (OMV) – appears to be the key factor in this study.

Two meningococcal B vaccines are available in the US: Bexsero, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, contains OMV components; the other vaccine, Trumenba made by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, does not. Both are effective against group B meningococcal disease.

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Following the group B meningococcal outbreaks at University of Oregon and Oregon State University, OHA researchers examined the records of meningococcal vaccine recipients ages 18 to 29 who were reported to Oregon’s ALERT Immunization Information System by on-campus or community-based vaccine providers near the universities. Because gonorrhea case reporting is mandatory in Oregon, the researchers could assess whether students who received the OMV-based vaccine (Bexsero) had fewer cases of gonorrhea than those who received the non-OMV-based vaccine (Trumenba). Those who got the non-OMV-based vaccine served as a control in this study, as it does not contain elements believed to protect against gonorrhea. The study populations included 15,760 recipients of one or more doses of the OMV-based vaccine and 15,212 recipients of one or more doses of the non-OMV-based vaccine.

The researchers found that the OMV-based meningococcal vaccine was 47% effective at preventing gonorrhea among recipients ages 18 to 29. They also found that the OMV-based meningococcal vaccine was 59% effective among those ages 18 to 19 – a group studied separately due to concerns that older students were more likely to graduate and leave the state, which meant later gonorrhea cases among these students might not be reported in Oregon.

“We believe these results show OMV-based vaccines, such as the one approved in the United States for preventing meningococcal B virus, warrants further investigation as a way of preventing gonorrhea, particularly given the global public health burden of this sexually transmitted infection,” Robison said.

Richard Leman, M.D., a now-retired OHA public health physician, is a study co-author.