A vaccine "will ultimately be the only sustainable way to achieve control" of gonorrhoea, the agency warns. And that prospect is not a certainty by any means. WHO is now strengthening laboratory and epidemiological surveillance systems in the countries of the African meningitis belt to detect and characterize the serogroups responsible for epidemics to guide its response effectively; assure supplies of effective drugs and ability of health care systems to deliver these to the affected populations; protect the population at risk through mass immunization, if the vaccine is available.
The study was supported by GSK Vaccines (formerly Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics). A special vaccine that only protected against that strain was made; it was used between 2004 and 2008.
Petousis-Harris was clear about what needed to happen next.
This vaccine may also provide protection against gonorrhoea and could be tested in future trials. Nevertheless, they know that the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria and Neisseria meningitidis bacteria (responsible for meningitis) are genetically similar, hinting to a biologically plausible mechanism.
The researchers collected data from 11 sexual health clinics in New Zealand representing nearly 15,000 people and around 1000 cases of gonorrhoea.
Just last week, the World Health Organization said there was an urgent need for new drugs to prevent and treat gonorrhoea, often called "the clap", which is spread by vaginal, oral and anal sex.
If the vaccine had an effect against gonorrhea because it is an organism related to meningococcal disease, the researchers hypothesized, then no effect should be seen against chlamydia, an unrelated organism.
Lead author Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, of Auckland University, said: 'This is the first time a vaccine has shown any protection against gonorrhoea.
They found that those who had been vaccinated were significantly less likely to have gonorrhea. "This finding can inform further research on gonorrhea vaccine development; it provides a pointer in what may be the right direction".
They did a retrospective study of over 14,000 individuals who had received MeNZB when younger.
But a team of researchers in New Zealand has some hopeful news.
MeNZB was developed to control a meningitis epidemic and is no longer available, but the OMV antigens thought to provoke the immune response to gonorrhoea have been included in the more recently developed 4CMenB vaccine, available in many countries.
Compared with unvaccinated people, those who had received the vaccine were about a third less likely to contract gonorrhea, the researchers found. That makes developing a vaccine problematic, Handsfield said. "I wouldn't advise widespread use for the objective of gonorrhea prevention".
Kramer said that if a vaccine against multiple strains of gonorrhea could be developed, it would be very beneficial. In New Zealand, mass vaccination of more than 80 per cent of people under the age of 20 was found to have shortened the outbreak. A number of cases with identical etiology were reported in several countries in Asia, Europe and in the United States; an epidemiological link with global travel to Saudi Arabia, during which close contact with returning pilgrims could be established, was also reported. For now, the best way to protect yourself against gonorrhoea, chlamydia and other STIs is to always use a condom during vaginal, oral and anal sex.