Last weekend, I went on a camping trip to Kanopolis Reservoir.
A day or so later, I felt a tick bite me on the shoulder. It was one of those tiny ticks that you can barely see or feel, and it had dug itself in pretty deep. I couldn’t reach my hand around to get it, so I asked Kathy Hanks to come over and pull it out for me. Here’s the video. It’s worth the two minutes it takes to watch it, because Kathy is quite hilarious. Also, I’m using her for all my health care needs. She doesn’t require insurance or co-pays, and her results are remarkable.
If you watched the video, you noticed that Kathy was also concerned that I might contract Lyme Disease. I wasn’t concerned about that, until everyone in the newsroom started talking about how I needed to watch it and hope that it didn’t turn into the telltale “Bull’s Eye rash” that’s a sure sign of the tick-borne illness.
I think I’m in the clear, though.
I recounted this story, and concern, to a friend. A nurse who spent some time in Germany. It was during that conversation that I learned there is, or at least was, a vaccine, available throughout Europe, that prevents Lyme Disease contracted through a tick bite.
I wanted to know more, and this is what I found:
- In the U.S. between 20,000 and 30,000 people are contract Lyme Disease each year. In 2015, Kansas saw 11 confirmed cases and 12 probable cases.
- Some other sources indicate that as many as 300,000 Americans contract the disease each year. I think they’re adding up the annual totals, however, because this conflicts the CDC information, which I think is much more reliable.
- The disease can be debilitating, for several months. In some cases, patients develop severe reactions that last longer. From the German equivalent of Health and Human Services: “If untreated, the illness progresses to the second stage within days or weeks after exposure. Symptoms include severe headaches, meningitis, swollen joints, skin lesions, heart palpitations, dizziness, persistent fatigue, sleep disturbance, as well as loss of muscle tone in the face (Bell’s palsy). Some of these symptoms usually disappear within weeks or months. However, if untreated, the illness will progress to a third stage which includes arthritis and chronic pain, numbness, tingling of hands and feet, and short-term memory loss.”
- There was a vaccine available in the U.S. from 1998-2002. From the Centers for Disease Control: “A Lyme disease vaccine is no longer available. The vaccine manufacturer discontinued production in 2002, citing insufficient consumer demand. Protection provided by this vaccine diminishes over time. Therefore, if you received the Lyme disease vaccine before 2002, you are probably no longer protected against Lyme disease.”
- The maker of the vaccine was SmithKline Beecham.
- There is a vaccine available for pets. Stanley Plotkin, an emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, finds the situation frustrating. “We know how to make a vaccine,” says Plotkin, whose adult son nearly died of a rare complication of Lyme disease in 2005. “We have a vaccine for dogs that is based on the same principle, but we have no vaccine for humans,” he says. “I find it to be a public health failure that is shameful for the medical and public health community.”
- The human vaccine, Lymerix, was plagued by reports of varied side-effects that prompted lawsuits that essentially pulled the drug from the market, despite evidence showing it was a cost-effective vaccination. Anti-vaccination groups consistently raised questions about the vaccine.
- From my research, it seems the vaccine is now likewise not available in Europe, though there are some new drugs being tested for the prevention of Lyme disease.
- Most research indicates the vaccine had about a 75-78 percent success rate in preventing Lyme Disease.
Now onto some of the arguments on this.
Determining the cost-effectiveness of a person’s life and well being
Lyme Disease is probably among the least concerning parts of this dynamic. We have a public health issue, one that by all accounts seems to be growing. People have, and will be affected by this disease. And while we can vaccinate our pets, and there’s a formula for a preventative vaccine sitting somewhere being unused, people are contracting Lyme disease and being treated for its ill effects. And we’ve allowed a drug company to decide that it’s not profitable to offer something that has already been developed, that it’s better to allow people to contract the disease so the company can make a drug that is more lucrative. And even when it was available, insurance companies were loathe to pay for it, because you know, preventing diseases like Lyme disease are “elective.”
Every person around the world who contracts Lyme Disease is little more than business decision. Meanwhile, on the other end of it, we’ll keep spending money to re-actively treat a disease that in most cases could be prevented.
I am tolerant and understanding of the anti-vax community, but I often don’t agree with their all or nothing approach to things. I think there are issues with vaccination that are worth investigation, and I agree that medicine is largely a for-profit industry that works to create markets for its products. But the science behind many vaccinations is sound and their efficacy demonstrated by the containment of diseases like polio, smallpox, etc. But on this, I don’t want to have discussion, because I’ve had those before and there’s no middle ground it seems. I nearly left this section out altogether for fear that I’ll get trolled by this community, which has happened before.
But I have to include it, because at least part of the reason there’s no longer a Lyme Disease vaccine is due to an organized effort against it. In this case, groups opposed to the vaccine organized against its use and filed a class action lawsuit.
I wouldn’t argue for compulsory vaccination against Lyme Disease, but I think it ought to be available for those of us who spend a great deal of time outside. Right now, it seems, the primary advice for avoiding Lyme Disease is to avoid the outdoors, or douse yourself in DEET or permethrin. I can’t see how that’s all that much better than a vaccine. If a Lyme Disease vaccine was available, it would make sense for some people to get it and it wouldn’t for others. That seems like a reasonable middle ground.
There’s a vaccine for dogs
Seriously, do I need to say anything else here? There’s a safe and effective vaccine for your dog, but not for you. This is stupid. I would reference down to “Determining the cost-effectiveness of a person’s life and well being.” Seemingly, there’s money to be made in vaccinating pets.
Discouraging living life outdoors
To me, one of the worst problems of the many problems we have in this country is that people don’t get outside enough. They don’t interact with nature. They don’t move enough. And they don’t appreciate the natural world. This, I think, leads to a host of issues.
For starters, people who don’t experience nature don’t have any problem destroying it, particularly if there’s money to be made from it. That, I suspect, is why we’re now talking about de-listing federal monuments and why there are conversations about expanding logging, ranching and mining operations on public lands. If some of these people had learned to love nature as much as they learned to love money, maybe this wouldn’t be happening.
There’s not only something magical about the outdoors, done right, the natural world, I think, shows us how to live and build and operate. And it’s cleansing. Sit under a tree and listen to the wind blow, or the birds chirp, or squirrels play, and you’ll find yourself feeling better, less stressed and chaotic.
And, I have to mention that we collectively could use to lose a few pounds. Hiking around might be a good place to start.
But we create 1,000 reasons for people to be terrified of the outdoors – mosquitoes, ticks, wild animals, whatever. We are scaring the hell out of people. Some of those concerns are legitimate, others are not. But it’s mind-boggling to me that one of those legitimate concerns – Lyme disease – could be alleviated with a vaccine, yet we would rather tell people to just stay inside, where it’s safe. A mind slightly more paranoid than mine might wonder if there’s design to keep us all detached from the thing that might make us feel a little more satisfied with life, in an effort to make us very eager and compliant consumers.
The case for public health
The past decade has seen a great amount of debate about public health policy. I don’t know all of it. I don’t even know much of it. Unlike our president, I have never suspected that our healthcare system was anything but complicated. I recently realized that when I went to four different doctors, and paid four separate copays, before I finally found a definitive answer about an issue I had with my foot. People who work in the industry have horror stories about chronically unhealthy patients who won’t do anything to improve their own health, insurance companies that won’t pay for needed treatments, and practices that put profit above people.
Despite that, we still pay nearly 20 percent of GDP on health care. In 2015, we spent nearly $10,000 per person on health care – far more than most other advanced countries, yet without the outcomes to match.
The underlying purpose of medicine, of a health care system, is to help people live healthier lives – both by encouraging better lifestyles and through prevention and intervention of diseases and illnesses.
I think we’re missing the mark on this, and it’s because medicine has become an industry, and when something becomes industrialized, money reigns supreme. If we’re interested in health outcomes, improving quality of life, and saving patients money and time, we’ll do something different. If the focus is on making sure we protect the wellness of the healthcare business, we’ll keep on doing the same thing.
Lyme disease, and the death of a viable vaccine, is a prime example. Instead of seeing this as a public health issue, it was viewed as a business decision. The growing number of people who contract this disease are simply collateral damage to ensure that a company meets its shareholders’ expectations – which is probably you and me, via our retirement accounts or other investments. Provided we still have some investments and haven’t drained them to pay for our medical care.