Lyme Disease Vaccine Developed in 1990s Remains Shelved

A simple sweep for deer ticks this time of year can net a couple of them within a matter of seconds. But a defense against the illness they bring, produced and approved by the FDA two decades ago, is still unavailable to the public.

The most prominent infection in this part of the country is Lyme disease, which can have debilitating effects on people years after they become infected.

"My friend's husband has Lyme disease and he's been suffering for the last three years," said Isabelle Campanini of Middleborough, Massachusetts.

Sam Telford, professor of infectious disease and global health at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, was one of two researchers who developed an FDA-approved Lyme disease vaccine called LYMErix back in the 1990s.

"I had no idea there was a vaccine for that," said Christian Peters of Middleborough.

"It angers me that we have a product sitting on a shelf that I worked on as a young scientist that could have prevented hundreds of thousands of cases of Lyme Disease in the interim," Telford said.

So why haven't most of us heard of it?

The version made for humans was shelved by the manufacturer three years after it was introduced after what Telford and other experts have said was an unfounded fear of a link to arthritis.

"That's the irony, is that the pet vaccine is exactly the same vaccine," said Telford. "It is the same anti-OspA vaccine strategy with the same protein and hundreds of millions of doses have been given to dogs with no safety issues."

Now, some are wondering if it's time to bring back the vaccine for dog's best friend, too.

"If they do have something out there that might protect people, it might be worth researching," said Campanini.

Telford says it would likely cost several million dollars to bring the LYMErix vaccine back. But experts say it would likely costs hundreds of millions to develop a new Lyme disease vaccine.

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