Why Isn’t There a Vaccine for Leprosy?

Why do anti-vaccine folks talk about leprosy (Hansen’s disease) so much?

“LEPROSY. I’m curious why there isn’t a vaccine for leprosy. With all the other bazillion vaccines out there, why not one for leprosy?”

We don’t have anywhere near a bazillion vaccines, but did you know that there actually is a vaccine for leprosy?

“Why aren’t you walking around concerned about leprosy every day? Why aren’t you concerned about someone from another country bringing leprosy into Australia or the US and somehow exposing all of our most vulnerable to this illness? I’ll tell you why. Because there’s no vaccine for leprosy. You are afraid of what we vaccinate for because these illnesses are hyped up all of the time. It’s propaganda. ”

Learn the Risk – Why aren’t we afraid of all diseases?

Don’t expect the leprosy vaccine to be added to our immunization schedule any time soon or to increase your fears about leprosy, as leprosy is not highly contagious and it can be treated, and even cured.

And while there are about 150 to 250 cases in the United States each year, most are in folks who used to live in areas of the world where leprosy is more common. Unlike measles, you aren’t likely to get leprosy at school or daycare or going to Disneyland, although you could get it if you have a pet armadillo.

Leprosy Vaccines

A vaccine against leprosy is important though. As with other diseases, we are seeing multi-drug resistant forms of Mycobacterium leprae, the bacteria that causes leprosy.

The new leprosy vaccine that is being developed will hopefully help to finally eliminate leprosy in parts of the Africa, Asia and Latin America where it is still a problem.

Throughout much of the 20th Century, people with leprosy in the United States were treated at the National Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana.
Throughout much of the 20th Century, people with leprosy in the United States were treated at the National Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana.

But it isn’t the first leprosy vaccine that we will have had.

Various leprosy vaccines have been developed and tested since the 1980s.

Also, the M. bovis BCG vaccine has been known to provide protection against both Mycobacterium tuberculosis (tuberculosis) and the related Mycobacterium leprae (leprosy) since as early as 1939.

“BCG vaccination is recommended in countries or settings with a high incidence of TB and/or high leprosy burden.”

BCG vaccines: WHO position paper – February 2018

The new leprosy vaccine, a sub-unit vaccine, will hopefully be more effective than previous strategies though, and will work to both prevent and treat leprosy.

Another leprosy vaccine, Mycobacterium indicus pranii (MIP), is being developed and tested in India.

Still, leprosy will never be eradicated, as armadillos serve as an animal reservoir for the Mycobacterium leprae  bacteria.

What to Know About Leprosy Vaccines

At least two leprosy vaccines are being developed and tested to help eliminate leprosy from the areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America where it is still a problem.

More on Leprosy Vaccines

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