NYC Is Gearing Up to Mass Vaccinate… Its Raccoons

Some vaccines will be helicopter-dropped.

New York City just launched a new mass vaccination program, and this time, it has nothing to do with humans. The city is launching a program to vaccinate its raccoons against rabies, and it even involves helicopter drops.

On Monday, September 12, The Health Department, NYC Parks, and federal and academic partners officially launched the effort, which consists of scattering oral vaccines (hidden in brown-colored baits) in wooded areas of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Staten Island's raccoons, instead, will receive their vaccine doses via helicopter, which will drop the vaccine baits next month on the borough's wooded and marshy regions. The program will last into October, and it is aimed at vaccinating the largest number of raccoons possible.

Attracting the animals is fairly simple. Reportedly, the bait smells like fish, and when the raccoons bite into it, it releases a pink liquid that acts like an oral vaccine. The vaccine itself is not harmful to humans, but if a person comes in contact with it, it can cause a rash. If that happens, residents are encouraged to wash their hands with warm and soapy water and talk to their doctor, and they should also notify the NYC Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. Baits aren't harmful to other animals and pets either, but they could cause vomiting if ingested.

The new rabies vaccination program is part of the City's effort to create a safer and healthier environment where humans and animals can peacefully coexist. "Rabies is a serious disease that can affect humans and our pets," Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said in an official statement. "New Yorkers should make sure their pets are up to date on rabies vaccinations and maintain distance from wildlife. If you see an animal you believe to be acting strangely, please call 311."

Rabies affects the central nervous system, and while it is a fatal viral disease, it is preventable. In NYC, it is found mostly in raccoons, and for this reason it is crucial that residents and their pets refrain from getting close or touching the animals. As a further precaution, pets can also be vaccinated against the virus.

"While coming into contact with a rabid raccoon is very rare, raccoons are residents of our city, and New Yorkers should be advised," Sarah Aucoin, Chief of Education & Wildlife for NYC Parks, said in an official statement. "If you see a raccoon, give them space, and never approach or try to feed them."

For more information on rabies and what to do in case of an emergency, you can visit NYC's information page on the subject.

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.