Here's why the cost of rabies vaccines is so high Rabies deaths are extremely rare in the U.S., thanks to the effectiveness of the post-exposure prophylaxis treatment that exists. But the cost of those lifesaving shots can be extremely high.

The Capitol fox fascinated folks. But no one mentioned the cost of rabies treatment

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You don't often hear about people dying from rabies in the U.S. That's because post-exposure rabies shots are extremely effective.


As political reporter Ximena Bustillo found out. Last Tuesday, she was leaving the grounds of the U.S. Capitol when she suddenly felt a tiny stab and scratch on her left ankle.

XIMENA BUSTILLO: I screamed really loudly and whipped around, and a fox ran from behind me in front of me. And it was kind of like a little standoff - like, I began swinging at it with my backpack because that's the only thing I could think of doing.

CHANG: The fox had bitten her. After it was captured, it was euthanized and tested for rabies. It tested positive. But even before the fox tested positive, Bustillo had begun treatment. Thankfully, she's going to be OK. But what remains to be seen is how much this encounter will cost her.

ESTRIN: The website GoodRx estimates the cost of the drugs can range from around $5,000 to $6,000. And that doesn't even include hospital costs or price markups that make the shots even more expensive. Erin Fox is a senior pharmacy director at University of Utah Health. She says the high price tag of the drugs comes down in part to how few people need them.

ERIN FOX: If you think about it, you know, even though a large number of people do get bitten each year, it is still a fairly low-use product.

CHANG: Fox says it almost makes sense that the companies are trying to charge enough to still be able to make the product. Still, the cost of this lifesaving treatment can saddle uninsured people with debt.

AMI BERA: Price shouldn't be the object here. This is a public health issue.

ESTRIN: Ami Bera is a congressman from California. He was also bitten by the fox last week. And he was a doctor before he came to Congress. He says people bitten by wild animals shouldn't have to bear the cost out of pocket.

BERA: If someone who doesn't have the means but who gets bitten, we ought to make the immunoglobulin and the rabies - like, this is a matter of life and death. So my perspective as a doctor is that shouldn't be a barrier.

CHANG: Despite the costs, Bera says if you find yourself bitten or scratched by a wild animal, you must see a doctor.


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