There are no good reasons, and a lot of bad ones, that your dog can be vaccinated for Lyme disease but you can not. Profiteering and vaccination fears have teamed up to leave humans defenseless from a terrible malady.
For Dr. Stanley Plotkin, a prominent vaccine scientist, Lyme disease is personal. His son, Alec, collapsed from a slow heart rate when he was 39, brought down by a rare heart complication from Lyme.
His son survived, but the incident helped cement Plotkin’s resolve to pursue a human vaccine against Lyme disease. Using his bully pulpit as an emeritus professor of infectious diseases at the University of Pennsylvania, he’s taken his case from The New York Times to the New England Journal of Medicine, in which he called the lack of Lyme protection “the worst recent failure to use an effective vaccine.”
That’s because we used to have a vaccine for Lyme, called LYMErix, but it was pulled from the market. Now, the only family member who can get a Lyme vaccine is your dog.
LYMErix had some problems. It required three doses at $50 each, and they were not covered by insurance — so involved some inconvenience and out-of-pocket money. Despite a good safety record in clinical trials, some people experienced what they thought were side effects and sued SmithKline Beecham, the manufacturer. In 2002, SmithKline pulled the vaccine, after only four years on the market. (More on the history of the Lyme vaccine here.)
While the official line is that poor sales led the vaccine’s maker to pull it, most experts think the specter of lawsuits was a key factor. Though an FDA panel ultimately found no link between the vaccine and arthritis, SmithKline settled lawsuits making that claim. And by then, the vaccine was already dead.
That cautionary tale still reverberates at companies developing new potential Lyme vaccines. “When I talk to manufacturers, they essentially ask me: ‘Will it happen again?’ ” Plotkin said.