Healthy Living

Is There a Vaccine Against Lyme Disease?

Is There a Vaccine Against Lyme Disease?

Key Takeaways

  • The only Lyme disease vaccine was developed in the 1990s by SmithKline Beecham.
  • Unfortunately, the vaccine did not work like most vaccines do. 
  • So far, there has not been any breakthrough to fight Lyme disease.

Spring brings a well-heightened mood to play outdoors, but it also marks the unpleasant beginning of Lyme disease season after season. The disease is rarely chronic. If there is a delay in the treatment, it might cause arthritis, meningitis, and heart problems. The patients can recover completely with antibiotics, but prevention is always better than cure. 

The cases of Lyme disease were first reported in the 1970s. By the 1990s, the disease was growing into a national crisis so scientists started investigating on it. Treatment procedures were developed and of course, people had to find a way to prevent themselves from getting the disease. For Lyme disease prevention, there was a call for the development of a vaccine.

LYMErix Vaccine

The only Lyme disease vaccine was developed in the 1990s by SmithKline Beecham. The company is now known as GlaxoSmithKline. LYMErix was the only vaccine that could effectively prevent Lyme disease infections.

Unfortunately, the vaccine did not work like most vaccines do. The mechanism of LYMErix was to attack the bacteria in the gut of the ticks and kill them before they could be transferred to the human body. Most vaccines are made using the causative agent of the disease. Usually, vaccines get the body to produce antibodies that will attack the causative agents of a disease, if at all a person gets infected. In this way, the vaccines prevent a person from getting infected. 

How does this happen? 

When a person is vaccinated against Lyme disease and gets bitten by the tick, the blood that enters the tick's gut is full of antibodies to kill the bacteria. LYMErix was given in three doses and was mostly effective in preventing the disease.

The Side Effects of the Vaccine

LYMErix was the first and the only approved vaccine from the FDA to treat Lyme disease. However, within just a year of reaching out to people, reports about its adverse effects started popping up. Frequent complaints of muscular pain and swelling were observed in patients that were given with the vaccine. 

The vaccine was sold until 2002, and effectively reduced the number of people infected with Lyme disease. In children, the vaccine was 100 percent effective, while in adults, it was only 80 percent. However, before long, the vaccine was attacked by the media and critics.

The biggest of these criticisms was that the vaccine caused arthritis. This claim was based on the fact that the proteins used in the manufacturing of the vaccine were considerably different from the human body’s proteins. Although they were made to be very similar to those of the human body, they were actually very distinct. For this reason, they claimed that the vaccine caused the body’s immune system to attack its own normal proteins. This hypothesis was further backed up by reports about the side effects of the vaccine on people who used it. People reported having musculoskeletal (muscles, bone, and joints) pain and developing swellings.

Aside from this, the company was involved in a series of lawsuits and eventually had to quit production of the vaccine. The lawsuit was filed by hundreds of people from Philadelphia, who claimed that they have observed severe side effects after their vaccination. The lawsuits led to the result of a decline in the market. Due to the efforts of the media and other critics, sales of the vaccine went down to levels, which proved unprofitable for the company. The media ran sob stories of personal experiences that added fuel to the fire and drew readers to come up with a conclusion of boycotting the vaccine. In addition, the vaccine was very expensive and was not affordable for many people.

Another drawback of the vaccine was that the protection provided by it diminishes over the course of time. Therefore, even if you had received the vaccination before the company stopped producing it in 2002, you are not protected against the disease anymore.

It is sad to see that an effective vaccine was withdrawn from the market only because of poor sales, lawsuits, pressure from anti-vaccination groups, and fear mongering from the media.

Other Research on the Vaccine for Lyme Disease

  • After the withdrawal of LYMErix from the market, Erol Fikrig, a physician involved in the development tried a different approach. His research was about developing strategies to prevent the ticks from feeding on mammal hosts. He focused on blocking the transmission of the tick's saliva to prevent the bacteria from entering the body. 
  • Researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Baxter International Inc., and Stony Brook University published their result on the Lyme vaccine based on OspA in 2013. They found no serious side effect of the vaccine. However, the efficiency of the vaccine is yet to be found.
  • MassBiologics, a nonprofit vaccine manufacturer, presented research on pre-exposure prophylaxis. It has the potential to prevent Lyme disease and can protect a person for six months, just long enough to get away from the risk of infection.
  • Dr. Marconi and his team are developing an OspC, which is another surface protein that is similar to OspA. It will not require regular boosters.

So far, there has not been any breakthrough to fight Lyme disease. Moreover, there is no current vaccine for the disease. However, you can take personal measures to prevent yourself from getting the disease. Preventive measures include:

  • Covering yourself up when going to areas with long grass, where ticks and Lyme disease are common.
  • Using insect repellents, but with extreme caution. They should not be applied in the eyes, hands, and mouth.
  • Clearing bushes and areas where the ticks live or could be living, basically destroying their habitat.
  • Removing ticks as soon as you notice them on your skin. If you get rid of ticks before they have spent 36 hours on your skin, then you have a high chance of getting out without developing Lyme disease. Since it is not usually easy to notice when a tick gets on your skin, you should be quick in getting rid of one if you notice it on you.
  • Practice proper personal hygiene that extends to your family and pets. 

Lyme disease can cause a lot of trouble for people as well as their family members. It is of utmost importance that the disease is properly addressed and taken care of before it becomes worse.