A committee which advises on immunisation has urged the government to bring in routine vaccination for those most at risk of gonorrhoea.
Plans to introduce a vaccine to prevent gonorrhoea would be a world first, and they come as levels of the infection are currently at a record high.
“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”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has also recommended an ongoing routine vaccination strategy for protection against mpox, formerly known as monkeypox.
The advice was that both programmes should be offered on an opportunistic basis through specialist sexual health services which have the experience in assessing those who are at increased risk of bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The JCVI’s advice for gonorrhoea said that the programme should use the 4CMenB vaccine, which is currently used to prevent children from getting meningococcal disease such as meningitis and septicaemia.
Meningococcal disease and gonorrhoea are closely genetically related, with evidence showing that the 4CMenB vaccine will provide some cross-protection against gonorrhoea.
The JCVI has advised that both vaccination programmes should primarily target gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men who are at highest risk.
In addition, it noted that the vaccine should also be offered to individuals at equivalent risk as this group, including people who may be heterosexual or identify otherwise.
It comes as a report published in June by the UK Health Security Agency revealed that the gonorrhoea diagnoses had increased by 50% between 2021 and 2022.
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.”
Meanwhile, the advice on mpox follows an outbreak in May 2022 and ongoing community transmission in the UK since then.
The JCVI has said it will keep the immunisation advice under review and that eligibility may be reassessed as further information about vaccine effectiveness and duration of protection becomes available.
Katy Sinka, head of sexually transmitted infections at UK Health Security Agency, welcomed the intervention for gonorrhoea, noting that it would ensure preparedness “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,” said Ms Sinka.
“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.”