Health Shot: Lyme disease vaccine update
Plus a "sick" pajama party for people with energy limiting conditions
Before we get into our research summary for today, I just want to highlight this incredible event I stumbled across: a pajama party park lounge session for people with energy limiting chronic illnesses, which apparently took place in Cape Town the weekend before last.
“We can’t march, as many people with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) or long Covid struggle to stand up and breathe at the same time,” said one of the organizers, “But we can certainly lounge in style.”
Heck yes. We should do more of this. I think this event hits all the right chords—some levity, creativity, and a big dose of community. Also, kudos to the writer responsible for the headline of this article, “Pyjama picnic for those with chronic illnesses will be sick” 😂.
Today I want to do a quick update on the state of vaccine development for Lyme disease. If you aren’t familiar with the world of Lyme, you may be surprised to learn that it is at the root of one of the most passionate and aggressive debates going on in the chronic disease world. The disagreement is around whether chronic Lyme, also called long Lyme, or post-treatment Lyme, is a real thing. Post-treatment Lyme is a condition where symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, heart palpitations and more last after antibiotic treatment for Lyme has concluded and the patient “should be” better.
On one side of the debate are the many medical doctors who do not believe post-treatment Lyme is real, largely because there are not well-established biomarkers for it that are easily measured in the western medical system. On the other side are a raft of patients and clinicians who have experienced or witnessed very real symptoms and suffering following an initial Lyme infection and treatment. It’s hard to overstate how intense the debate has become—so intense that it is regularly referred to as the Lyme wars.
Personally I am confident that there is such a thing as chronic Lyme given just how many patients have experienced it, (this account by Ross Douthat in the New York Times is exhaustive and well-written, and addresses a lot of the issues of uncertainty while taking a stand on chronic Lyme). I’m not scientist, so my little opinion doesn’t matter much, but in my own life the idea of getting Lyme disease scares the hell out of me. Even putting chronic Lyme aside, undetected acute cases can lead to serious complications like meningitis, carditis, arthritis, and facial paralysis. Last summer, taking my son back to New England where I grew up, I watched with a simmering fear as he tromped through tall grasses in the Lyme capital of the world. Lyme infections are also increasing, now estimated at about half a million cases a year in the US.
So I have been thrilled to see that some new developments are making a Lyme vaccine likely in the pretty near future! Let me share the highlights.
Two Lyme Vaccine Updates
This is the most advanced vaccine for Lyme under development, with phase three human trial already underway. The phase two trials showed positive results, which were published this fall, and if phase three goes well, the companies hope to submit for regulatory approval in both the US and Europe by 2026. That’s pretty soon!
This vaccine is a multivalent protein subunit vaccine, in other words a vaccine that uses little bits of protein from the pathogen to trigger immunity.
More recently, new research out of uPenn conducted by scientists who won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on mRNA vaccines has shown effectiveness of an Lyme mRNA vaccine in mice. As you may recall from that whole COVID pandemic—(do you recall that? It’s like remembering some kind of long bad dream)—mRNA vaccines are a novel approach to vaccination that prompts the body to make its own proteins, which then trigger an immune response, versus injecting foreign proteins directly.
Although the development of this vaccine is at a much earlier stage than the Pfizer vaccine, I think it’s exciting to see the brainpower of some of the top mRNA vaccine researchers turn towards Lyme, implicitly acknowledging it for the threat that it is and the massive suffering it causes across our population each year. In my opinion, the more options we have to prevent Lyme, the better, so I’m thrilled to see the progress here.
Would you attend a “pyjama picnic”?
Have you had Lyme disease? What is your response to the news of a potential Lyme vaccine?