Quirks & Quarks

Why isn't there a Lyme disease vaccine for humans?

A false start caused a two decade lull in vaccine development to protect humans from Lyme

A false start caused a two decade lull in vaccine development to protect humans from Lyme

A person removes a tick on a dog in the forest in Champenoux, eastern France. (JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP/Getty Images)

This week's question comes from Twitter user Kenneth Gourlay, @GKEnviro, who asked:

Vets have a vaccine to protect dogs from getting Lyme disease. Why do humans not have one? 

According to Dr. Lori Burrows, an effective vaccine was developed back in the early 2000's by the drug company GlaxoSmithKline, but some people reported it caused arthritis-like symptoms, which led the vaccine to be pulled from the market. Later studies actually showed that the rates of arthritis in vaccinated people were no different than in the general population. 

Fast forward to today, Lyme disease, which is spread through tick bites, has become more common in Canada with warmer winters allowing ticks to survive longer in the north.This has made the need for a vaccine even more pressing, since the health consequences of Lyme are severe, and many people don't get treated in time, as symptoms may take weeks to appear.

Fortunately, a company in France called Valneva is working on a new Lyme disease vaccine, which is an improved version of the vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline. It protects against more strains of the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, and to put people's minds at ease, Valneva has engineered it to remove the component that was thought to be causing possible arthritis-like symptoms in the original. The vaccine is currently undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. and Europe. If all goes well, a human vaccine for Lyme disease should be available in the next few years.


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