USDA Begins Airdropping Rabies Vaccines in 13 States

USDA Begins Airdropping Rabies Vaccines in 13 States
Dog being vaccinated against Rabies in Indonesia in 2019. (Sonny Tumbelka, Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has started airdropping millions of rabies vaccine packets in thirteen states, with airplanes and helicopters used for distribution from Maine to Alabama.

One of the main aims of the program is to prevent raccoons from spreading the rabies strain to states where the virus is either not detected or has a low prevalence, said field trial coordinator Jordona Kirby, according to AP. In the 18 states along and near the East Coast, raccoons make up the main rabies reservoir. The vaccine airdrop campaign kicked off this month in parts of northern Maine, West Virginia, southwestern Virginia, and western Pennsylvania.
According to an Aug. 8 news release by the USDA, approximately 348,000 Raboral V-RG oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits are to be distributed throughout northern Maine while the other three states will see a distribution of 535,000 ORV baits during this month.

ORV baits are coated with a fishmeal attractant and are packaged in one-inch square cubes or two-inch plastic sachets.

“When an animal finds a bait and bites into it, the sachet ruptures, allowing the animal to swallow the vaccine. Animals that swallow an adequate dose of the vaccine, develop immunity to rabies,” according to a July 2020 post by the USDA.

“As the number of vaccinated animals in the population increases, they act as a buffer to stop the spread of the disease to other wildlife, domestic animals, and people.”

From mid-September to mid-October, the USDA plans to distribute over 70,000 ORV baits across peninsular Massachusetts. In October, 880,000 ORV baits will be distributed in parts of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia, 820,000 ORV baits in parts of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina, and finally 1.1 million baits in certain parts of Alabama.

Controlling Rabies

Due to local and state pet vaccination laws, the rabies virus in the United States is largely spread via wildlife. In 1997, the national rabies control program kicked off in Texas where coyotes were the spreader of the canine variant.

In 2004, the variant was eliminated due to the vaccine drop program. As a result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared the country free from canine rabies three years later.

In January 2022, the USDA dropped 1.1 million baits along America’s border with Mexico to prevent coyotes from bringing back the canine rabies variant.

While raccoons are the main rabies reservoir in 18 states, skunks are the main carriers in 21 states. Bats are another spreader of rabies. Of the almost 4,500 animals found to be infected with rabies in 2020, bats made up 31 percent.

According to the CDC, around 90 percent of reported rabies cases in the United States are found in wildlife. The detection, prevention, and control of rabies is estimated to cost over $500 million per year in the country.

The Raboral vaccine is classified as safe for use in over 60 different species of animals. However, if dogs consume a high number of baits, they might experience an upset stomach. Children or adults coming in contact with the ORV baits must rinse the area of contact with soap and warm water.