Watch CBSN Live

Lawsuit Over Lyme Vaccine

More than 100-thousand Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease every year. There is a vaccine available, but some who have taken it say they wish they had taken their chances instead. CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston explains why.

"I take 9 pills a day," says Zelma Johnson.

The old rule, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, did not work for Zelma Johnson. She has to take 9 pills a day now, because she took a vaccine last summer to avoid Lyme disease.

"I wanted to protect my self from extreme medical expenses," Johnson says. "So I thought it would be good preventative medicine to take the Lyme vaccine."

Soon after taking the drug, Johnson was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a painful, debilitating, incurable disease -- triggered, says Johnson, by the Lyme vaccine. As she recalls, "The only side effect that I was warned of was that there may be redness and soreness, not arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis>"

Lyme disease, which is found in 48 states, is transmitted to humans by deer ticks. Smithkline Beecham developed Lymerix, a vaccine which uses a protein to kill the bacteria.

"Were absolutely convinced that the vaccine does not cause arthritis," says Dennis Parenti of Smithkline Beecham. "All the data have been submitted to the FDA, they deemed that the vaccine is safe and effective."

Of the 600-thousand people who have taken the drug since it went on the market, Smithkline maintains that any side effects have been minor. But the company is being sued by Zelma Johnson and other patients who charge Lymerix isnt safe.

Smithkline Beechman isn't budging. "We believe that the lawsuit is without merit and SmithKline Beecham will vigorously defend the lawsuit," says Parenti.

Dr. Charlene DeMarco is a Lyme disease specialist. She wont prescribe Lymerix and worries about the long term impact as more patients take the drug.

"By using this vaccine, we are creating a monster," says Dr. DeMarco, "were creating auto-immune Lyme disease thats untreatable."

Whatever happens in court, Zelma Johnson fears the vaccine has changed her life forever. "I think the hardest thing that I cant do is hold my grandchildren, because I dont have the strength to give them a hug and make them secure," she says sadly.

But for thousands of Americans concerned about Lyme disease, its a balancing act, trying to determine whether the benefits outweigh the risks.