Jun 15, 2022 - Health

Why there's no Lyme disease vaccine yet

Picture of a tick behind a leaf

Photo: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

With almost half a million people potentially getting Lyme disease in the U.S. each year, it seems surprising that there is no vaccine available for the illness.

Flashback: The only vaccine previously marketed in the U.S. for the disease was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998, but the manufacturer discontinued it in 2002 due to "insufficient consumer demand," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By the numbers: Approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC by state health departments each year.

  • The CDC notes that the number could be far higher: "Recent estimates using other methods suggest that approximately 476,000 people may get Lyme disease each year in the United States."
  • Additionally, the CDC found that between 1997 and 2019, the amount of confirmed Lyme disease cases increased by 54%.

Zoom out: A study published in BMJ Global Health found that over 14% of the world's population may have had Lyme disease.

  • The researchers examined nearly 89 studies that looked at how common antibodies to the Lyme disease-causing bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi are in humans.

The big picture: Ticks are more abundant than usual. Researchers attribute this to rising temperatures from climate change, which lead to prolonged summers and shorter winters and impacts animal migration.

  • Additionally, more people are spending time outdoors, increasing their chances of getting bitten by ticks and getting infected.

What's happening: Due to the lack of a preventative vaccine, experts suggest avoiding bushy areas with tall grass. However, if in those environments, people can wear clothing that covers most of their skin, and treat their clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin, per the CDC.

  • People should wear EPA-registered insect repellents.
  • Additionally, after spending time outdoors, check clothing, gear and pets for ticks and remove them if spotted — never squeeze a tick to remove it, as it could worsen any infection.

Don't forget: Symptoms of Lyme disease depend on its stage, but can include, fever, chills, rash and muscle and joint aches.

  • And although "the Lyme organism is killed with antibiotics, the organism itself doesn't break down very well. It sort of hangs around in a dead form," Peter Krause, a senior research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, told NBC News.

What they're saying: "We really do need a vaccine. That's probably the best hope for us to really get control of it," Krause said.

What we're watching: Clinical trials for Lyme disease vaccines are currently underway. Pfizer and Valneva have developed a candidate that is in Phase 2 human trials, according to the CDC.

  • The University of Massachusetts Medical School's MassBiologics is also developing a vaccine, and human trials are expected to begin soon.
  • The CDC says that once a vaccine is approved by the FDA, the agency will then work to "develop recommendations about where in the U.S. the public might benefit from a Lyme disease vaccine."

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