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Here’s why the cost of rabies vaccines is so high: NPR


An adult vixen has been confirmed positive for rabies after being captured on the grounds of the United States Capitol and humanely euthanized. The fox bit at least nine people, including a lawmaker and a Politico reporter.

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Here’s why the cost of rabies vaccines is so high: NPR

An adult vixen has been confirmed positive for rabies after being captured on the grounds of the United States Capitol and humanely euthanized. The fox bit at least nine people, including a lawmaker and a Politico reporter.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Ximena Bustillo was leaving the United States Capitol on Tuesday when she suffered a minor stab wound and a scratch on her left ankle. Bustillo, who is a food and farm policy reporter for Politico, immediately squealed as she turned around and came face to face with a red fox.

The two were at an impasse for a few moments, Bustillo said, as she continued to scream and swing her backpack at the animal to chase it away. Some nearby Congress staff overheard her and came to help her.

Eventually, the fox gave in and ran into the bushes, but it left Bustillo standing there with a bleeding ankle. Almost immediately, panic set in. What should she do? Who should she call? Also, can foxes carry rabies?

The answer is yes, foxes can carry rabies, the viral disease most commonly transmitted through saliva when bitten by animals. Rabies has one of the highest death rates, but deaths in the United States are extremely rare due to effective post-exposure treatment.

Foxes are one of the most common animals in the United States to harbor the rabies virus, along with bats, raccoons and skunks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After the Capitol Hill fox was captured and euthanized so testing could be done, DC Health, the health agency for the District of Columbia, confirmed the fox had tested positive for the rabies virus.

Even before this confirmation, however, Bustillo had already started the post-exposure prophylaxis treatment for rabies that many people bitten by wild animals undergo. It remains to be seen how much this meeting will cost him. Nearly 55,000 Americans receive post-exposure prophylaxis treatment each year, according to the CDC, but the cost varies widely.

Here’s why the cost of rabies vaccines is so high: NPR

Capitol Hill police officers and an officer from the Animal Control Division of the Humane Rescue Alliance attempt to trap a fox on the grounds of the United States Capitol on Tuesday. The fox was eventually captured, euthanized and confirmed positive for rabies. The fox kits were also humanely euthanized after it was determined they could have been exposed and could no longer be safely rehabilitated.

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Here’s why the cost of rabies vaccines is so high: NPR

Capitol Hill police officers and an officer from the Animal Control Division of the Humane Rescue Alliance attempt to trap a fox on the grounds of the United States Capitol on Tuesday. The fox was eventually captured, euthanized and confirmed positive for rabies. The fox kits were also humanely euthanized after it was determined they could have been exposed and could no longer be safely rehabilitated.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Treatment usually includes a series of five injections: one dose of rabies immunoglobulin and four injections of rabies vaccine given over two weeks. This can vary depending on the severity of a bite or exposure and whether a person is immunocompromised. The good news is that the treatment is extremely effective and the death rate from rabies in the United States is extremely low. In 2021, the country recorded five rabies deaths, which was the highest number in a decade, but no deaths or cases were reported for the whole of 2019 and 2020.

Although there are a few different brand-name options, the cost of this treatment ranges from $4,868.35 to $5,930.83, according to the latest drug pricing data from GoodRx, a website that promotes drug transparency. drug prices and helps people get discounts on prescription drugs.

However, GoodRx’s estimate does not include the cost of administering these drugs, which are usually administered in a hospital. This means that the prices are also subject to a markup. Over the years, studies have shown that hospitals can easily charge patients twice the cost of a drug, sometimes even 10 times the cost.

Medical treatments are not charged when the patient leaves the hospital, and Bustillo has not yet completed her full treatment, but she is already thinking about the cost.

“I heard from everyone that it’s extremely expensive,” Bustillo said. “I got different amounts. I saw $900 per hit. I saw $1,800 per hit. I saw $8,000 per hit. … But I mean, honestly, I don’t I have no idea. I know I paid a co-payment yesterday that was $60, and that’s still an expense you don’t plan on.”

Here’s why the cost of rabies vaccines is so high: NPR

Before the fox was captured, there were numerous sightings on Monday evening. Then reports of people biting the fox started coming in, a Capitol Police spokesperson told NPR on Tuesday via email.

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Here’s why the cost of rabies vaccines is so high: NPR

Before the fox was captured, there were numerous sightings on Monday evening. Then reports of people biting the fox started coming in, a Capitol Police spokesperson told NPR on Tuesday via email.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Erin Fox is senior director of pharmacy at the University of Utah Health. One of the things his team does is track drug shortages and drug prices.

Regarding the rabies vaccine, Fox says there are three suppliers in the United States and two immunoglobulin suppliers. While that might seem like a small number, Fox said it’s roughly comparable to similar drugs in the United States.

But the high price of drugs depends in part on the number of people who need them.

“If you think about it, even though a lot of people get bitten every year, it’s still a fairly underused product,” Fox said. “So it’s not like a vaccine that’s on a schedule where everyone has to get one, you know, every X years.”

The rabies vaccine is not required for children to go to school, and not everyone needs it. This leads to a smaller market, and so, Fox said, it almost makes sense that companies would try to charge enough to still be able to manufacture the product.

Yet the cost of life-saving treatment can put the uninsured into debt. Rep. Ami Bera, D-California, was bitten by the fox Monday night. Bera, who had a 20-year career in medicine before serving in Congress, said people bitten by wild animals shouldn’t have to bear the cost out of pocket.

“Price shouldn’t be the object here,” Bera said. “It’s a public health issue where someone who can’t afford it but gets bitten, we should make the immunoglobulin and the rabies vaccine – like it’s a matter of life or death – so my view as a doctor is that it should it won’t be a barrier.”

Sydney Lupkin contributed to this report.

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