Long-awaited Lyme vaccine test begins

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 menace.

Lyme is a growing threat, with cases steadily rising and warming weather helping ticks expand their habitat. While a vaccine for dogs has long been available, the only human Lyme vaccine was pulled off the U.S. market in 2002, leaving people to rely on bug spray and tick checks.

Now Pfizer and French biotech Valneva are aiming to avoids the pitfalls of their predecessor in developing a new vaccine to protect both adults and kids as young as 5 from the most common Lyme strains on two continents.

“There wasn’t such a recognition, I think, of the severity of Lyme disease and the prevalence” last time around, Pfizer vaccine chief Annaliesa Anderson told The Associated Press.

Robert Terwilliger, an avid hunter and hiker, was first in line recently when test injections began in central Pennsylvania. He’s seen lots of friends get Lyme and is tired of wondering if his next tick bite will make him sick.

“It’s always a worry, you know?” said Terwilliger, 60, of Williamsburg, Pennsylvania.

Lyme disease historically has been undercounted and while the exact toll isn’t clear, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites insurance records suggesting a staggering 476,000 people are treated for the illness 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, and often — but not always — the first sign is a round, red rash that resembles a bull’s-eye.

Early antibiotic treatment is crucial but it can be hard for people to tell if they were bitten by ticks, some as small as a pin. Untreated Lyme can cause severe arthritis and damage the heart and nervous system. And for unknown reasons, some people have lingering symptoms even after treatment.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.