Debate on Lyme Disease mandates ignores most effective treatment

While the state legislature debates mandating insurance coverage for long-term Lyme Disease treatment, they are ignoring the more effective way to treat the illness – vaccination. Just as dogs are regularly vaccinated for Lyme Disease, so too can humans receive a vaccine. The only reason it isn’t offered is because insurance companies refuse to include it in most plans, both because it wasn’t profitable and because of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that it caused arthritis.

As the popular science website IFLScience.com reported,

“Developed in the ‘90s by pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline), LYMErix was the only licensed Lyme disease vaccine on the market. The vaccine was based on one of the surface proteins expressed by the disease-causing bacterium, which was used to evoke an immune response in the individual. Clinical trials involving more than 10,000 individuals found that LYMErix reduced new infections in adults by close to 80% and conferred protection to 100% of children. Additionally, no serious side-effects were observed.

Despite these positive results, the vaccine was withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2002 due to a combination of factors. Although it was considered a cost-effective approach for Lyme disease, its high cost resulted in slow uptake in clinical settings and reluctance of insurance companies to cough up for it. This, combined with the emergence of a hypothesis that the vaccine sparked immune responses that resulted in arthritis, caused the vaccine’s popularity to plummet.”

Since the vaccine was essentially killed by insurance companies, Lyme Disease has become more common. NBC News reported in 2015, “The infection is gradually spreading from the Northeast and becoming more common farther south and east, and Lyme is now found in four times as many counties now as it was in 1993.”

The best approach to treating Lyme Disease is not more after-the-fact treatment mandates, but encouraging insurance companies to include an effective vaccine in their plans. One such vaccine is under development and legislators should pressure federal regulators to approve it quickly and insurance companies to include it in their coverage plans.

 

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