Millions of rabies vaccinations have been dropped from planes along the Texas-Mexico border this month. The vaccinations target wildlife, an effort by the Department of State Health Services to stop rabies from crossing the border. Today is the final day of the program.
At the Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport, a crew is loading tens of thousands of rabies vaccines into an aircraft. The plane will scatter the vaccines along the border from Presidio to Big Bend National Park. Almost three million packets of vaccines have been dropped statewide since mid-January— all the way east to the Gulf of Mexico. It is all part of the Oral Rabies Vaccination Program.
The program started in 1995 after a rabies outbreak caused almost 20 million dollars in livestock damage and resulted in two human deaths.
Guy Moore is Deputy Director of the program and said, “We knew that if we didn’t stop it here in Texas, it could go all the way to the Canadian border.”
After 20 years, the program has eliminated the virus in coyotes and almost erased it in gray fox. This year, the program is testing the vaccine on skunks in East Texas.
The vaccines look like dirty ketchup packets. They are white plastic coated in fishmeal.
“When they [wildlife] bite into the bait,” said Moore, “it pops that little sashay and coats their throat, and it vaccinates them.”
The idea is to create a barrier of vaccinated animals to prevent the spread of rabies from Mexico into the United States.
“So you have an unvaccinated sick animal coming into a population of vaccinated, protected animals,” Moore explained, “that animal that’s sick can’t pass that disease on. They’ll die. So you’ve stopped that transmission of rabies from animal to animal by having a group that’s already vaccinated.”
Today is the final fly day for the program. Crews have completed distribution. Next month scientists will return to collect brain and blood samples to test the effectiveness of the program.
— Anna Rose MacArthur