There is currently no vaccine available to prevent Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness prevalent across the United States. With rapid advancements in vaccine technology, this could soon change.
Lyme disease is transmitted from a tick to its host through a bacteria called B. burgdorferi. Once bitten by a tick, it takes around 24 hours for the bacteria to be transmitted to the tick’s host. If the tick is removed before the bacteria is transmitted, the host will most likely not develop Lyme disease.
Currently, the only available methods for a person to avoid getting Lyme disease are either to remove a tick quickly or to avoid getting bitten altogether. Neither of these methods are easy since the blacklegged tick, the species of tick that transmits Lyme disease specifically in the northeastern U.S., is only an eighth of an inch long in adulthood and just the size of a pinhead in its younger nymph stage.
In 1998, a Lyme disease vaccine for humans was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This vaccine was named LYMErix and was produced by GlaxoSmithKline. The company decided to stop selling the vaccine in 2002 due to a lack of commercial success. Since then, Lyme disease has increased in prevalence and in public awareness, making the need for a Lyme disease vaccine far greater than it was in 2002.
There’s even a Lyme vaccine approved for dogs. Called Nobivac, this vaccine triggers the canine immune system to produce an antibody that prevents the bacteria B. burgdorferi from being transmitted from ticks to dogs. This vaccine has been available for dogs since 1996, much to the frustration of those hoping for a Lyme disease vaccine approved for humans.
The good news is that Pfizer (along with a company called Valneva) is currently in the process of developing a Lyme disease vaccine. They have successfully completed phase 2 of their Lyme disease vaccine. Regulatory agencies first need to ensure the safety and consent of all participants before deciding when phase 3 of the vaccine trials will begin. If the remaining trials go well, we could see this vaccine available in 2025.
As covered by Labroots in December, researchers at Yale University are also working on an mRNA vaccine that triggers an immune response in response to a tick bite. After being bitten by a tick, a person who had received this vaccine would develop itchy hives, allowing them to quickly remove the tick and preventing transmission of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.