FDA Panel Approves Lyme Vaccine

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The woods, they say, are lovely, dark and deep -- and full of the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease. Now an FDA panel has declared a vaccine for the disease safe enough to market, but with plenty of asterisks attached. SmithKline Beecham's Lymerix works by causing the body to form antibodies when the disease-causing bacteria enters, but only if you are between the ages of 18 and 70, don't have arthritis, heart disease or active Lyme disease, and aren't pregnant. Further, it can take up to a year and three doses before the vaccine is fully effective.

As endorsements go, it was hardly ringing. Panel chairwoman L. Patricia Ferrieri admitted as much, saying "It's rare that a vaccine be voted on with such ambivalence and a stack of provisos." So far, it does little to clear up the controversy over whether Lyme disease symptoms can exist in the body years after the disease has supposedly been stopped. And the FDA hasn't said when the vaccine will be officially cleared for public consumption.

Still, the opportunity for a preemptive strike against the disease was too good to pass up. "There may be a lot of risks, and there's a lot of testing that still needs to be done -- they don't know if you need booster shots, for instance," says TIME science writer Michael Lemonick. "But it does seem to work in a lot of people, and they felt the risks were outweighed by this dangerous disease." Those who do fall into the required demographic may find it a small price to pay for peace of mind while walking through the woods.