Lyme disease is one of the most serious public health threats that we face today. It is far more prevalent than people realise and is causing many different debilitating conditions, ranging from memory loss to life-threatening heart problems. For decades now, those suffering with this devastating disease have been left out in the cold by the NHS and in many cases feel completely abandoned.
It is positive news that a vaccine to protect people from contracting Lyme is in development. Valneva, the French drug company, has completed the first human trial of a vaccine that could be up to 96 per cent effective. The indications are that it will take five years before the vaccine is finalised, but there is hope that it will then be available on the NHS to people of all ages.
If the vaccine is safe, effective, and fully accessible, then this is an extremely important step in the fight against Lyme. As Caudwell LymeCo chief executive, Veronica Hughes, told the Sunday Telegraph, “It would be fantastic news if it turns out to be a safe vaccine that can prevent more people catching Lyme disease.”
The biggest problem with any potential Lyme disease vaccine, aside from safety, is whether it will be available to everybody in the country. We know that even if people do not live in areas which are deemed high-risk, they will inevitably at some stage visit such an area where they are in severe danger of catching a disease which is damaging hundreds of thousands of lives.
Everybody should therefore be able to get the vaccine for a low cost. This is vital if it is to have any success in containing the spread of Lyme disease. For this reason, I urge the NHS to apply some commercial logic. A deal whereby the vaccine is bought on a mass-scale will help drive down the price per unit, and these savings should be passed on to the millions of people in need of this vaccine.
We have of course heard this before. The first and only licensed vaccine against Lyme disease was developed by SmithKline Beecham in 1988. It worked in a very similar manner to the vaccine developed by Valneva, by stimulating antibodies to attack Lyme bacteria in the tick’s gut before the bacteria is able to enter the body. Yet by 2002, it was withdrawn from the market following several complications. This time round, we need assurances that the vaccine is here for the long-term.
But preventing the further spread of Lyme disease does not address the huge amounts of suffering currently experienced by hundreds of thousands of people with Lyme. Their lives could certainly be made better if the medical profession took the disease a lot more seriously.
The Government must sponsor research that is desperately needed to analyse symptoms, implement treatments, monitor results and gradually increase and refine our knowledge of Lyme. Only through this will we start to make real inroads into this disease. I remain confident that we can find a cure for chronic Lyme if the correct resources are devoted to this effort, and the Department of Health and the NHS should not be let off the hook.
We also need an immediate and comprehensive training programme for doctors, an awareness scheme to alert people to the symptoms of Lyme disease and specialist treatment facilities. This is vital to helping those in need right now.
If research programmes are properly carried out, I have no doubt that an enormous number of lives in the UK alone could be quite dramatically improved. The vaccine alone will not win the fight against Lyme disease. We need drastic action now and I am continuing my campaign to ensure that this happens urgently.
By John Caudwell, Chairman of Caudwell LymeCo