Rabies vaccine is a vaccine used to control rabies. Rabies can be prevented by vaccination, both in humans and other animals.
Currently, pre-exposure immunization has been used on domesticated and normal non-human populations. In many jurisdictions, domestic dogs, cats, and ferrets are required to be vaccinated.
Imrab is an example of a veterinary rabies vaccine containing the Pasteur strain of killed rabies virus. Several different types of Imrab exist, including Imrab, Imrab 3, and Imrab Large Animal. Imrab 3 has been approved for ferrets and, in some areas, pet skunks.
Virtually every infection with rabies resulted in death, until the two French scientists Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux developed the first rabies vaccination in 1885. This vaccine was first used on a human on July 6, 1885, on nine-year old Joseph Meister (1876–1940), who had been mauled by a rabid dog.
Their vaccine consisted of a sample of the virus harvested from infected (and necessarily dead) rabbits, which was weakened by allowing it to dry for 5 to 10 days. Similar nerve tissue-derived vaccines are still used now in some countries, and while they are much cheaper than modern cell culture vaccines, they are not as effective. Neural tissue vaccines also carry a certain risk of neurological complications.
The human diploid cell rabies vaccine (H.D.C.V.) was started in 1967. Human diploid cell rabies vaccines are made using the attenuated Pitman-Moore L503 strain of the virus. Human diploid cell rabies vaccines have been given to more than 1.5 million humans as of 2006.
Aside from vaccinating humans, another approach was also developed by vaccinating dogs to prevent the spread of the virus. In 1979 the Van Houweling Research Laboratory of the Silliman University Medical Center in the Philippines, then headed by Dr. George Beran, developed and produced a dog vaccine that gave a three-year immunity from rabies. The development of the vaccine resulted in the elimination of rabies in many parts of the Visayas and Mindanao Islands. The successful program in the Philippines was later on used as a model by other countries, such as Ecuador and the Yucatan State of Mexico, in their fight against rabies conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organization.
In addition to these developments, newer and less expensive purified chicken embryo cell vaccine, and purified Vero cell rabies vaccine are now available. The purified Vero cell rabies vaccine uses the attenuated Wistar strain of the rabies virus, and uses the Vero cell line as its host.
In 1984 researchers at the Wistar Institute developed a recombinant vaccine called V-RG by inserting the glycoprotein gene from rabies into a vaccinia virus. The V-RG vaccine has since been commercialised by Merial under the trademark Raboral. It is harmless to humans and has been shown to be safe for various species of animals that might accidentally encounter it in the wild, including birds (gulls, hawks, and owls).
V-RG has been successfully used in the field in Belgium, France, Germany and the United States to prevent outbreaks of rabies in wildlife. The vaccine is stable under relatively high temperatures and can be delivered orally, making mass vaccination of wildlife possible by putting it in baits. The plan for immunization of normal populations involves dropping bait containing food wrapped around a small dose of the live virus. The bait would be dropped by helicopter concentrating on areas that have not been infected yet. Just such a strategy of oral immunization of foxes in Europe has already achieved substantial reductions in the incidence of human rabies. In November 2008, Germany had been free of new cases for two years and is therefore currently believed as being rabies-free, together with few other countries (see below). A strategy of vaccinating “neighborhood dogs” in Jaipur, India, combined with a sterilization program, has also resulted in a large reduction in the number of human cases.