Living with Lyme: why do dogs have a vaccine but we don’t?

Living with Lyme

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Since we kicked off our month-long series Living with Lyme, we have taken several calls about the same question, one that pops up year after year: why do dogs have a Lyme vaccine and we don’t?

Before we get into the ‘why,’ it’s important to understand the danger of the ‘what.’

We aren’t safe from Lyme and neither are our furry friends. Ticks are tiny and hard to spot on people and their clothes, but they can be even harder to see in a dog’s fur.

The early signs families will see are mopey, lethargic, kind of achy dogs or lame on one leg and then the other leg a few days later. To an extreme, Lyme can cause kidney failure.

Veterinarian Heather Danboise

The disease has a similar, wide variety of symptoms in people. Except, while dogs have preventative medications and a vaccine, we don’t.

About 20 years ago, there were two Lyme vaccines for people.

“It worked and it was very similar to the Lyme vaccine we have for our dogs,” said Infectious Disease Physician Kris Paolino with Upstate Medical University.

Paolino says a large group of people described a Lyme-like illness with joint pain after getting the shot. It was pulled from the market. A panel looked at the data and found that it was safe to use but because of the vaccine fears, it wasn’t selling.

“Honestly it, I think scared off a lot of vaccine manufacturers from doing anything for Lyme for really a long time,” Paolino said.

Until a few years ago, when Pfizer and Valneva began to work on a vaccine. Right now, they’re in phase two of the vaccine study.

“I believe the hope is that in 2022 they’re gonna do a large phase three study to really kind of see how good the efficacy is,” said Paolino.

It’s great news but it will be years before it’s ready to go into our arms.

So, doctors and researchers say our focus should pivot to prevention for both us and our pets.

“Your flea and tick preventions are the most important standby, but that vaccine gives us just a little bit more protection,” Danboise said.

You should consult with your veterinarian to see which medications would be right for you and your pet.

The best ways to protect yourself and your pets are:

  • check for ticks daily
  • keep pets on proper preventative medications
  • wear tick repellent
  • wash clothes and shower after coming in from a hike
  • consider spraying clothes with permethrin, a repellent that can last on your clothes for a few washes

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