Why Lyme disease doesn't have a vaccine

Although the CDC receives 30,000 Lyme disease reports annually and that number has tripled over the past two decades, there isn't a vaccine for the vector-borne illness — and just one new vaccine candidate is in the pipeline, The New York Times reports.

Six things to know:

1. Experts predict the annual number of Lyme disease cases in the U.S. may be closer to 300,000. "Clearly, the problem is getting worse," said Paul Mead, MD, top scientist for the CDC. "For years, we have been advocating that people use repellents, do tick checks, spray their yards. That remains good to do, but it's not enough."

2. Health officials identified Lyme disease in the 1970s after a several people in Lyme, Conn., began having arthritis symptoms. Patients may also experience fever, headache, fatigue and rash. Although Lyme disease is primarily found in Northeastern and North-central states and Northern California, a recent report found it in all 50 states. 

3. SmithKline Beecham — now GlaxoSmithKline — released a Lyme disease vaccine called LYMErix in 1998. The vaccine was 76 percent effective in adults after three doses. Due to low sales and lawsuits from patients who said the vaccine caused arthritis and other symptoms, however, the pharmaceutical company removed it from the market less than four years later. Some patients claimed the vaccine caused an autoimmune reaction.

4. Studies never directly linked LYMErix to chronic side effects or serious complications, the Times noted, but media coverage on patients' claims made physicians and patients hesitant about the vaccine.

5. Stanley Plotkin, MD, an emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said losing the vaccine was a "public health fiasco." He and other researchers said public opposition stopped drug companies from investing in a different vaccine that might also fail on the market.

6. But Valneva, a biotech company based in Europe, is making progress on VLA15, a vaccine to protect against six strains of Lyme, including the one most common in the U.S. The company designed the new vaccine so it would not create an autoimmune reaction, said Valneva CEO Thomas Lingelbach.

"It is a very different vaccine than LYMErix," Mr. Lingelbach said. The vaccine is undergoing testing, and Valneva aims to seek licensing in about five years.

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