Gonorrhea incidence is increasing rapidly in many countries, whilst antibiotic resistance is making treatment more difficult. Combined with evidence that MeNZB and Bexsero meningococcal vaccines are likely partially-protective against gonorrhea, this has renewed interest in a gonococcal vaccine, and several candidates are in development. Key questions are how protective a vaccine needs to be, how long protection needs to last, and how should it be targeted. We assessed vaccination's potential impact, and the feasibility of achieving WHO's target 90% reduction in gonorrhea incidence 2016-2030, by comparing realistic vaccination strategies under a range of scenarios of vaccine efficacy and duration of protection, and emergence of extensively-resistant gonorrhea.
We developed a stochastic transmission-dynamic model, incorporating asymptomatic and symptomatic infection and heterogeneous sexual behavior in men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM). We used data from England, which has a comprehensive, consistent nationwide surveillance system. Using particle Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods we fitted the model to gonorrhea incidence in 2008-17, and then used Bayesian forecasting to examine an extensive range of scenarios.
Even in the worst-case scenario of untreatable infection emerging, the WHO target is achievable if all MSM attending sexual health clinics receive a vaccine offering ≥52% protection for ≥6 years. A vaccine conferring 31% protection (as estimated for MeNZB) for 2-4 years, could reduce incidence in 2030 by 45% in the worst-case scenario, and by 75% if >70% of resistant gonorrhea remains treatable.
Even a partially-protective vaccine, delivered through a realistic targeting strategy, could substantially reduce gonorrhea incidence, despite antibiotic resistance.