Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Effective Way to Prevent Lyme Disease Is Not Available - for Humans

Lyme disease is an important illness with approximately 30,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the US.  Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium and transmitted by a tick.  Lyme disease usually manifests itself initially as a skin rash but then proceeds to affect other tissues including joints, tendons, muscles, the heart, nerves and the brain.  If diagnosed early Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics, but if not the symptoms can persist for years.

Fortunately, an effective vaccine has been developed for the disease.  Unfortunately, the vaccine is available only for pets.  Please read the recent article Why Your Dog Can Get Vaccinated Against Lyme Disease and You Can't.

GlaxoSmithKline developed a vaccine called LYMErix which was tested in human clinical trials involving 10,000 patients and found to provide protective immunity with minimal side effects.  LYMErix was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration at the end of 1998.

Soon after the vaccine was released a number of vaccine recipients complained that the vaccine caused arthritis and soon the lawyers joined in and prepared class action suits against GlaxoSmithKline.  The FDA and US Centers for Disease Control investigated the complaints and found no scientific evidence connecting the vaccine to the development of arthritis or other serious side effects. Nevertheless, with sales plummeting because of the adverse publicity and the legal liabilities rising - in 2002 GlaxoSmithKline withdrew the vaccine from the market.  Other manufacturers also stopped developing their vaccines.

So here is a case where an important and effective vaccine is no longer available because of a scientifically unsubstantiated hypothesis that this vaccine causes serious side-effects.  In general, vaccines are one of the most safe and effective means of preventing infectious diseases.  Unfortunately, to date we have not been able to develop effective vaccines for many critical infectious diseases such as AIDS.  

How tragic it is when an effective vaccine is successfully developed only to be later withdrawn based on hysteria and avarice.

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