Last week I posted about a fascinating researcher named Dr. Nevena Zubcevik who had some startling claims about Lyme disease, including disputing transmission times, how to properly use antibiotics, and the difference between how Lyme symptoms show up in kids versus adults. If you missed it, you can read it here.
One comment that came up, again, and again, was how unfair and bizarre it seems that there is a Lyme vaccine for dogs but not humans. I wondered if this was true and if so, why on earth would we not be racing for a vaccine for people?
Here is what I found.
Yes, there is a real vaccine and it is safe
In the late 1990’s there was a huge push in the scientific community to create a vaccine for humans to fend off Lyme disease after researchers, the CDC, and health officials all realized that Lyme disease is a serious threat to public health.
In 1998 the FDA approved a drug called Lymerix, which was created by SmithKline Beecham, which is now called GlaxoSmithKline. The drug was hailed as a miracle and many thought that it would help the northeast US, where Lyme is most prevalent then and now, fight off the growing epidemic of Lyme disease. So what happened?
After four years, SmithKline Beecham pulled the vaccine despite it’s proven safety thanks to an effective public outrage campaign by anti-vaccine activists who claimed that Lymerix was causing arthritis.
But was it?
Anti-vaxxers cause a media circus
Anti-vaxxers were busy trying to get MMR vaccines pulled from shelves when there was a strong belief among them that the MMR vaccines caused autism – a claim that has since been repeatedly discredited by the scientific community. A small faction of anti-vaxxers was unshakably convinced that there was a link between chronic arthritis and Lymerix and so they sued…several times.
Looking for a way to get Lymerix away from the public, anti-vaxxers began to highlight the voices of those who believed that the Lyme vaccine was the cause of their arthritic pain. Something that was not proven.
Stanley Plotkin who is an adviser to the pharma company called Sanofi Pasteur told writers at New Scientist that “The chronic arthritis was not associated with Lyme,” he added “When you’re dealing with adults, all kinds of things happen to them. They get arthritis, they get strokes, heart attacks. So unless you have a control group, you’re in la-la land.”
New Scientist goes on to point out that there was a control group. “And when the FDA reviewed the vaccine’s adverse event reports in a retrospective study, they found only 905 reports for 1.4 million doses.”
But despite the numbers and the proven safety of the drug, the anti-vaccine activists won their PR campaign and the drug was pulled.
Is there a vaccine coming back?
Thankfully, YES. In fact, there is a new generation Lyme vaccine that aims to improve upon Lymerix and is not only currently in early human trials, but is estimated to be six years away from “any public roll-out.”
A biotech company in France called Valneva told New Scientist that their version of a Lyme vaccine “will improve on Lymerix, acting against all five strains of the disease instead of just the one most common in the US, and it will be suitable for children.”
He went on to say that he understands and expects that anti-vaxxer activists in the US will put up another fight to prevent this new drug from seeing the light of day.
Let’s just hope that common sense will win this time and we can get access to a modern marvel that will prevent Lyme disease.
For more information on Lyme disease, you can visit the CDC.