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Major testing of the first potential Lyme disease vaccine in 20 years has begun in the United States and Europe

Researchers are searching for thousands of volunteers in the United States and Europe to test the first potential Lyme disease vaccine in 20 years in the hope of finding a better way to combat the tick-borne threat.

Lyme disease, caused by bacteria entering the body through the bite of an infected tick, is a growing problem, with reports of rising case numbers and warm weather helping ticks expand their habitat.

While a vaccine for dogs has long been available, the only Lyme disease vaccine for humans was withdrawn from the US market in 2002 due to a lack of demand, leaving people dependent on insect spray and tick testing.

According to Health Canada, “there is currently no Lyme disease vaccine available for humans.” “However, there are clinical trials taking place in Europe and the United States.”

Those trials included Pfizer and French biotechnology company Valneva. They aim to avoid previous pitfalls in developing a new vaccine to protect both adults and children up to five years of age from the most common Lyme strains on two continents.

When the latest vaccine was pulled off the market, Pfizer’s head of vaccine, Annalisa Anderson, told the Associated Press that “there was no such recognition, I think, of the severity of Lyme disease.”

Robert Terlinger, an avid fisherman and hiker, was first to show up Friday when the school opened in central Pennsylvania. He’s seen a lot of friends get Lyme and is tired of wondering if the next tick bite will make him sick.

“It’s always worrying, you know?” said Terdlinger, 60, of Williamsburg, Pennsylvania. Especially when you’re sitting in a tree stand hunting and you feel something crawling on you.” “You have to be very careful. . “

Canadian cases not reported

It’s not clear exactly how often you get Lyme disease.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites insurance records that indicate that 476,000 people are treated for Lyme disease in the United States each year. And Pfizer’s Anderson estimated the number of annual infections in Europe at about 130,000.

In Canada, provincial public health units reported 14,616 human cases of Lyme disease between 2009 and 2021. But the federal government says on its website that the numbers are underreported “because some cases are undetected or underreported.” “.

The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. The infection initially causes fatigue, fever, and joint pain. Often — but not always — the first sign is a red, circular rash around the site of the tick bite. Registered nurse Janay Rowland prepares the vaccine or placebo in Duncansville, Pennsylvania, and the clinical trial will test the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, called VLA15. (Gary M. Baranek/The Associated Press)

Early treatment with antibiotics is crucial, but it can be hard for people to know if to ask, because some ticks are as small as a pin.

Untreated Lyme disease can lead to severe arthritis and damage to the heart and nervous system. Some people experience long-term symptoms even after treatment.

How does the vaccine work?

Most vaccines work against other diseases after people have been exposed to a germ. The Lyme vaccine offers a different strategy — working early to prevent a tick bite from transmitting infection, according to Dr. Gary Wurmser, a Lyme expert at New York Medical School who was not involved in the new research.

It does this by targeting an “external surface protein” of Lyme bacteria called OspA, which is found in the tick’s gut.

It is estimated that a tick must feed on a person for 36 hours before spreading the bacteria to its victim. This delay provides time for the antibodies that the tick ingests from the vaccinated person’s blood to attack the germs at the source directly.

In small early-stage studies, Pfizer and Valneva did not report safety problems and a good immune response.

The latest study will test the safety and efficacy of the new vaccine, called VLA15. The companies aim to recruit at least 6,000 people in Lyme-prone regions including the northeastern United States as well as Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.