Lyme Disease Vaccines: A Dilemma

Health care practitioners often praise vaccines. Vaccines prevent the development of infectious diseases. On a grand scale, where entire populations are involved, vaccines provide a safe form of an infection, bacterium, or virus to build immunity. The dilemma vaccines pose arises from the unpredictable nature of certain diseases, such as Lyme disease. When immunity is obtained at the expense of an individual’s long-term health, the benefits of a vaccine may not outbalance the drawbacks. Lyme disease is known to cause migraines, fatigue, rashes, and it may be linked to the development of arthritis, but at times Lyme disease can be difficult to pinpoint if there is no known presence of an infected tick. To reduce the number of Lyme disease patients, researchers attempted to create Lyme disease vaccines.

SmithKline Beecham, now known as GlaxoSmithKline, created LYMErix in the 1990s. LYMErix became available in the United States in 1998. This vaccine imitated antibodies that fought the Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, carried by infected ticks. LYMErix aimed to generate an immune response to protein from B. burgdorferi bacteria if it entered the human body. The vaccine achieved this: it achieved the ability to stop the regurgitation of infectious bacteria from the skin to the rest of the human body. This vaccine prevented Lyme infections as it hindered the circulation of Lyme disease bacterial antibodies. Those particular antibodies may be contracted through an infected tick bite.

LYMErix achieved a success rate of approximately 78%; it is reported that incidences of side effects occurred after vaccination. Patients reported these adverse reactions to the vaccine: infections and arthritis.
In 2002 SmithKline pulled LYMErix from the market. SmithKline Beecham justified this action with their statement that LYMErix had poor sales and low demand. However, much research on the LYMErix vaccine appears proprietary and has yet to become available.

To save social presence, the publicized justification of the LYMErix withdrawal is quoted as low demand and low profit. The issue with this consideration is that the defects of such a vaccine remained unknown, but then appeared to surface inevitably, given time.
Lyme disease does not affect all infected patients in the same way; the unpredictable nature of the disease raised safety concerns at the time SmithKline Beecham marketed LYMErix. Some patients would test positive for Lyme disease without any signs, others would exhibit flu-like symptoms and test positive for Lyme disease. Uncertainty towards whether a booster vaccine may be needed in the future created another issue for the vaccine.

Anti-Lyme vaccination groups such as the Lyme Disease Network hold strong oppositions towards Lyme disease vaccines; however, these groups support other preventative methods and Lyme disease research. These groups believe that Lyme disease vaccines may pose more harm than benefit. The Lyme Disease Network additionally fought lawsuits against the vaccine; for patients who experienced adverse effects. While treatments for this disease develop, so do preventative measures such as four-posts: a method used in forested areas to attract and capture infectious ticks. Another method of prevention is animal vaccination. Dogs receive Lyme disease vaccines most commonly; dogs appear to experience few to no adverse reactions to Lyme vaccines.

The quick disappearance made by LYMErix indicated the possibility of a problematic product despite SmithKline Beecham’s justification. A notable quality of Lyme disease is its complex effect on the human body; it does not necessarily affect each affected individual in the same way. The complexity of Lyme disease is essential to consider when researchers attempt to design a vaccine. If the disease affects individuals differently, a vaccine has the potential to do the same.


Appel, M. J. G., Allan, S., Jacobson, R. H., Lauderdale, T. L., Chang, Y. F., Shin, S. J., Summers, B. A. (1993). Experimental Lyme disease in dogs produces arthritis and persistent infection. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 167(3), 651-654. doi:10.1093/infdis/167.3.651
Poland, G. A. (2011). Vaccines against Lyme disease: What happened and what lessons can we learn? Clinical Infectious Diseases, 52(suppl 3), s253-s258. doi:10.1093/cid/ciq116
Spielman, A., Wilson, M. L., Levine, J. F., & Piesman, J. (1985). Ecology of ixodes dammini-borne human Babesiosis and Lyme disease. Annual Review of Entomology, 30(1), 439-460

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