With a 24/7 year-round news cycle focused on vaccinating human beings for COVID-19, word of another mass vaccination program now underway in North Carolina hasn’t even made a blip on the news radar. 

However, the state announced on Friday, Sept. 30, that it’s working with the United States Department of Agriculture to help prevent the spread of rabies by giving rabies vaccines orally to wild raccoons in the state.

If you think it’s hard to convince human beings to come in to get vaccinated – well, frankly, with raccoons, it’s impossible. That’s why, starting in the first week of October, more than a half million packages of rabies vaccine covered with fish meal will be dropped by airplanes and helicopters into parts of Ashe, Alleghany, Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Swain, Transylvania, Wilkes and Yancey counties. If raccoons in Guilford County want to be vaccinated, they’ll have to travel to one of those counties and look for the enticing food/vaccine in the forest.

Roughly 56,700 packages containing the oral rabies vaccine will be dropped in and around Asheville, Burnsville, Mars Hill and Waynesville, N.C. by helicopter.

 Also, teams on the ground will distribute about 6,000 baits by hand in the city of Asheville.

 The program, administered by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service -Wildlife Services, should be completed by mid-October.

When a raccoon bites into a bait that looks and smells like a seafood delight, the vaccine packet is punctured and the animal gets the juice that activates it’s immune system to produce antibodies that provide protection against rabies infection.

Unlike with the human population and the COVID-19 vaccinations, it’s not known what percentage of the state’s raccoons want the vaccinations and which ones are being bamboozled into taking it against their will.

According to state health officials, the vaccine being given out doesn’t contain the live rabies virus and can’t cause rabies in animals.

The state has issued the following warning: “Anyone who comes into contact with the liquid vaccine should wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and call the phone number listed on the bait for further instructions and referral.”

State health officials add, “Eating the baits won’t harm your pet but consuming several baits might upset your pet’s stomach,” and they also say “Instruct children to leave baits alone.”

Preventing the spread of rabies in the animal population keeps wildlife from spreading rabies to people and their pets and other animals.

A warning label on each bait advises people not to touch it and contains a rabies information line telephone number.

For more information on the rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, you can call the USDA Wildlife Services at no charge at the rabies line: 1-866-487-3297, or call the NC Division of Public Health at 919-733-3419.