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Local teens testing pediatric Lyme disease vaccine

Upstate Medical University researcher Mark Miller and his family live in a wooded area where they like to hike with their dog—making them a prime target for ticks.

Over the years, they have pulled about a dozen ticks off themselves, most of which tested positive through Upstate’s Citizen Science Tick Testing program for carrying Lyme or other diseases.

So, when Upstate started enrolling participants for a trial to test a new pediatric Lyme disease vaccine, Miller’s two children, 15-year-old twins Jordan and Ashton, wanted to join.

They said they were a bit nervous to participate but they knew that helping find a vaccine could help a lot of people.

“It is definitely a concern when you go outside, and checking for ticks is always an annoying hassle,” Ashton said. “It is also very concerning when you discover a tick has bit you and you can only hope it doesn’t have Lyme disease.”

Run by Upstate’s Global Health Institute, Upstate’s trial supports a larger Phase 3 trial by Pfizer and Valneva that started in the fall of 2022 and is being performed at several sites in the United States and overseas.

Upstate’s study includes participants ages 12 to 17 for the two-year study which started last fall. Four shots are given, either placebo or vaccine over two years.

Kristopher Paolino, MD, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, specializes in Lyme disease care. He said an increasing number of ticks in New York are found to be carrying Lyme and other diseases. The tick surveillance program at Upstate tested more than 27,000 ticks since it began in 2019, and about a third of those ticks have been found to carry one or more pathogens or disease-causing organisms.

“We live in an endemic area for Lyme disease, with more ticks being found to be positive for Lyme in our region, resulting in increased numbers of patients,” he said. “Lyme is the most important vector-borne disease in the United States with an estimated 500,000 infections annually. The ticks are not going anywhere, so our best chance to fight this infection is to maximize preventive measures.”

Both Jordan and Ashton say they have not experienced any side effects other than some expected arm soreness after their shots.

As a Senior Support Specialist in Orthopedics, Mark Miller has done research on hip and knee implants for more than 20 years. He has also participated in an Upstate clinical trial for dengue fever. His kids have been exposed to the importance of research through his job, and when he saw the ad for the vaccine trial, he approached his twins.

“My daughter is interested in the medical field and research so when she heard about the study she wanted to enroll right away to help advance the science, the medical knowledge,” he said.

Given his family’s history with ticks, they are hopeful the twins are receiving the actual vaccine, not the placebo, and they will find out which they were given once the trial is over.

He said the experience has been positive for his family. His kids have enjoyed learning about the process as well as being able to help others.

“Global Health has been really helpful and very professional throughout the whole process,” he said. “We have been informed of everything the whole way.”

Upstate is no longer recruiting for this trial, but Global Health is enrolling participants for numerous clinical trials.

The department is currently seeking participants who are 18-64 years of age for an Influenza Registry study. This is a registry of healthy adults who would be potentially eligible for future vaccine studies. This study is recruiting healthy adults to gather vaccination history, history of recent infections and collect blood at multiple time points to understand their immunity. Visits are every six months for up to three years.

For more information on this or other upcoming studies, reach out to (315) 464-9869 or [email protected].

Caption: Ashton and Jordan Miller have enrolled in Upstate's Global Health Institute's clinical trial for Lyme disease vaccine.