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Patient trials underway for a shot against Lyme

Unlike a vaccine, which triggers your immune system to make antibodies, the shot delivers anti-Lyme antibodies directly into the bloodstream

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine experienced a big drop in cases of Lyme disease in 2020.    

According to just-released preliminary numbers from the Maine CDC, there were 1,115 cases of Lyme reported in 2020. That number is down from 2019, which saw more than 2,100 cases. 

An early shot of spring-like temperatures means tons of folks are heading outside to enjoy Maine's beautiful scenery. 

Unfortunately, it's also a time when deer ticks begin to emerge, putting you and your pets more at risk for tick-borne illnesses. 

As Mainers shift to protecting themselves against ticks—there is good news on the horizon in the fight against Lyme. The development of an injection scientists say would be effective immediately against the bacteria that causes the disease—is back on track. 

The nonprofit vaccine manufacturer overseen by the University of Massachusetts Medical School is developing a Lyme pre-exposure shot called Lyme PrEP.

Unlike a vaccine, which triggers your immune system to make antibodies, the shot delivers anti-Lyme antibodies directly into the bloodstream.  

RELATED: Warmer weather equals ticks

When ticks drink blood that might contain this antibody it immobilizes and kills the bacteria in the tick. So, the transmission to you is blocked, Dr. Mark Klempner, the executive vice chancellor for MassBiologics and a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said.

Klempner said developing a vaccine to help prevent the rising number of cases of COVID-19 put the shot against Lyme on hold. Late last year, the shot got federal approval to begin human trials. 

"We want to determine there [are] no safety concerns," Klempner said. 

Clinical trials are taking place in Lincoln, Nebraska, where little or no Lyme cases have been reported. Researchers say that's key because they need to know that antibodies in the blood of the patients, are from the shot and not from previous exposure to Lyme. Those trials are expected to go on for the rest of the year to make sure they last for an entire tick season.

The hope is patients will be able to get the LymePrEP shot at a doctor's office or a local pharmacy. The injection is only targeting the bacteria that cause Lyme and not other tick-borne illnesses. 

Testing for how effective the shot is against Lyme could take place in 2022 and possibly available to the public in the spring of 2023.