Given several responses from readers, it appears a follow-up column on Lyme and other tick borne illnesses is warranted. A couple readers wondered why, if Lyme is so dangerous, there isn’t a vaccination for it. “I can get my dog vaccinated for Lyme disease, so why not me? Will the dog vaccination work on people?”
For various reasons, the dog vaccination for Lyme disease is not suitable for human beings. But there is, or at least was, a Lyme disease vaccination for people. Called LYMErix, it was distributed in the later part of the ‘90s and the beginning of the 2000s. It was very effective with a success rate estimated to be as high as 90 percent. But then it was pulled from the market.
LYMErix was widely used by those people whose jobs took them out into the woods on a regular basis including loggers, forestry workers, forest rangers, survey workers, outdoor photographers, and naturalists. So if LYMErix was so successful, why isn’t it available today?
The Lyme vaccination became a victim of the “vaccination scare” that swept the country at that time and continues in some quarters even to this day. During that time, amongst a small but economically significant number of people, vaccinations became a “bad thing.” Based upon mostly hearsay, many came to believe vaccinations caused autism in children. Then there arose the conspiracy theory that somehow the government was using vaccinations as a means of mind control. Then there was the view that vaccinations were a subtle form of socialism, since everyone was supposed to get them, and the “S” word evoked abject terror in the hearts of many. At any rate, the effect was to reduce the use of the LYMErix vaccination to the point where it was no longer economically feasible for the producer. However, the formula is not lost and it could be “brought back to life.”
LYMErix, or something similar, will likely be reintroduced as the Lyme “epidemic” becomes ever more widespread. At present, the saving grace for Lyme disease treatment (and other tick borne bacteria) has been strong antibiotics that are effective in the vast majority of cases. However, it is always better to prevent the disease in the first place than to have to deal with it once it manifests itself, which brings us back to vaccinations.
From a PR perspective, it doesn’t help when, as was in the news lately, an otherwise healthy 37-year-old woman died from a reaction to an antibiotic treatment. All medicine carries some risk. All vaccinations carry some risk. Adverse reactions occur in a very small number of cases. And the people who view requiring vaccinations as an attack upon their personal “freedoms” and “socialist” in nature are, in fact, correct.
However, there are things we can do better working together as a society as opposed to individually. These include but are not limited to the local fire department, building roads, social programs for the disabled, public schools, the local library, law enforcement. These are “social” programs and we agree that they are needed for all of us collectively. Some may not agree, but the vast majority understand their importance. Vaccinations fall into the same category. They are part of a “socialistic” program called public health. It is designed to protect the vast majority of the population.
To understand the importance of a fire department or police department, visualize what society would be like if they didn’t exist. One can do the same thought experiment with vaccinations. Imagine our society without vaccinations starting from childhood onward. Crippling disease, misery and death would be magnified a thousand fold. Is that what we want to return to? Is that what we want to potentially expose our children to? From the point of view of society as a collective (socialism) and not the individual, vaccinations are necessary to prevent the spread of disease that would have “society level” effects, and require the compliance of all individuals. Whether it is socialism or not, the health of the many outweighs the “rights” of a few.
Email Terry Mejdrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.