In a revolutionary leap for medicine, researchers are seeking thousands of volunteers in the U.S. and Europe to test the first potential vaccine against Lyme disease in 20 years.
In hopes of better fighting the tick-borne threat, Pfizer and French biotech Valneva are aiming to avoid previous pitfalls in developing a new vaccine to protect both adults and kids as young as 5 from the most common Lyme strains on two continents.
In small, early-stage studies, Pfizer and Valneva reported no safety problems and a good immune response. The newest study will test if the vaccine, called VLA15, really protects and is safe. The companies aim to recruit at least 6,000 people in Lyme-prone areas including the Northeast U.S. plus Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden. They’ll receive three shots, either the vaccine or a placebo, between now and next spring’s tick season. A year later, they’ll get a single booster dose.
Earlier on, a vaccine for dogs was the only inoculation against Lyme disease that was available, and the sole vaccine for humans was pulled off the U.S. market in 2002 from lack of demand, leaving people to rely on bug spray and tick checks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites insurance records suggesting 476,000 people are treated for Lyme in the U.S. each year. Pfizer’s Anderson put Europe’s yearly infections at about 130,000.
Black-legged ticks, also called deer ticks, carry Lyme-causing bacteria. The infection initially causes fatigue, fever, and joint pain. Often, the first sign is a red, round bull’s-eye rash. Untreated Lyme can cause severe arthritis and damage the heart and nervous system. Some people have lingering symptoms even after treatment.