TORONTO — In an example of a growing trend of using off-label drugs to protect their sexual health, some gay and bisexual men in Canada claim that taking the meningitis vaccine can prevent gonorrhea, but doctors warn Granted that the research is still in its infancy.

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The vaccine, called Bexsero, was approved by Health Canada in 2013 to protect against meningitis B, which can cause serious, life-threatening infections such as meningitis (infection in the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and sepsis (blood poisoning).

Recently, gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) are taking the vaccine to prevent gonorrhea. A study in New Zealand Incidentally, 2017 found that it reduced the risk of STIs by more than 30 percent.


Dr. Troy Grenon, physician lead for the HIV/STI program at the BC Center for Disease Control, explained that Bexsero is believed to work in the prevention of gonorrhea as well as in the prevention of meningococcal disease because both diseases are caused by related bacteria. .

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria meningitides while gonorrhea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae – both of which are part of the Neisseria bacteria family.

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“The idea is that the meningitis vaccine really targets an area where there is overlap between the two organisms,” he told during a telephone interview from Vancouver last week.

While Grennan said research specifically looking at Bexsero’s effect on gonorrhea rates is still in its early days—some studies are now underway, including a larger study in Alabama—members of the GBMSM community have previously The search for the vaccine has started. .

John, who requested that his full name not be published, is one of the first adopters of the Bexsero vaccine for the prevention of gonorrhea. He said he got his first dose of a two-dose vaccine in the fall of 2019 after his doctor told him of some studies on it.

After doing some research of his own, John said he has no concerns about taking the vaccine instead of its indicated use for gonorrhea prevention.

“I thought it was a pretty straightforward vaccine to help meningitis. The bacteria itself is related,” he said last week during a telephone interview from his home in Vancouver.

So far, John said he hasn’t experienced any side effects or adverse reactions to the vaccine.

“I think it worked because there is no real infection,” he said.

In an emailed statement to on Friday, a spokesperson for GlaxoSmithKline, which is the manufacturer Bexsero, said the vaccine was approved for use in Canada in individuals with meningococcal disease caused by Neisseria meningitidis. For the prevention of two months to 25 years of age. Group B bacteria.

“BEXSERO is not indicated for the prevention of gonorrhea and GSK does not endorse off-label use of our products,” the statement read.

The spokesperson said that there are complete and ongoing studies related to the use of Bexsero against gonorrhea and information about them can be found here.

Because research on the use of Bexsero to prevent gonorrhea is still in its early stages, Grenon said patients should talk to their health care provider about what options are available to them to protect their sexual health.

“It looks very promising,” he said. “It’s great that these studies are happening, but I think the full results are not out yet.”

long history of advocacy

Although the use of the Bexsero vaccine to prevent gonorrhea is relatively new, this is hardly the first time gay, bisexual and transgender men in Canada have resorted to off-label drugs to protect their sexual health.

Jody Jolimore, an advocate for gay men’s health and executive director of the Center for Community-Based Research in Vancouver, said interest in the Bexsero vaccine is part of a growing trend in the gay and lesbian community to find their own health solutions.

He told during a telephone interview from Halifax last week, “It really speaks to the resolve, and the determination to prevent STIs and stop HIV, and really to have better sexual health as a community. “

Joliemore, who intends to acquire Bexsero soon after his friend John finds out about it, said gay and lesbian men have a long history of activism and engagement around prevention.

As an example, Joliemore said gay men promoted the use of condoms and pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) medication to prevent HIV before the government and health officials. He also said that gay men were the ones who first discovered that hepatitis C could be sexually transmitted.

“Because of HIV, it has made gay men sex-health conscious, and so we see these pockets of knowledge, and we continue to lead the way in prevention,” he said.

Grenon agreed that, in general, the gbMSM population is very literate and proactive in seeking ways to improve their sexual health, which explains their interest in Bexsero and other off-label drugs, such as doxycycline.

Doxycycline is a common antibiotic that has been in use since the 1960s and is used to prevent a large number of bacterial infections, including acne, respiratory infections, eye infections, intestinal infections, and bone infections. Some forms of the drug are also used to treat malaria.

Grenon explained that, over the past decade, some studies have been released that suggest that doxycycline may also prevent syphilis and chlamydia. Grenan himself is conducting a trial involving 500 GBMSMs from across Canada to study the antibiotic’s effect on STIs.

Joliemore and John both said they have been taking doxycycline for STI prevention for several years.

According to Grenon, as incidences of STIs, especially syphilis, and GBMSM in particular, “skyrocket” across the country, the importance of finding new prevention methods is more important than ever. Despite their best efforts, the gonorrhea rate continues to rise, he said.

“It’s great that we’re finally starting to explore novel approaches to STI prevention because I think this work has been overshadowed or delayed or negatively impacted by a lot of social stigma and sexual negativity,” he said. said.

Joliemore said this type of research can benefit everyone, not just people in the gbMSM community.

“While we are moving forward as queer men, there may be interventions that will be effective for other populations,” he said.

That’s why Joliemore and others are trying to draw attention to the use of off-label drugs for sexual health to encourage more research on their potential benefits.

“These interventions could really be game changers,” he said. “I want to put some pressure on researchers to do some research about this. I want to put some pressure on public health to start paying attention to this.”