Rabies vaccine is unique in that it is most often used after exposure to the disease. The only people who typically get vaccinated as a preventive measure (before exposure) are those who are at high risk for exposure, such as laboratory workers, veterinarians, animal handlers, spelunkers, and travelers going to parts of the world where exposure to rabies is likely. For these people three doses of vaccine are given; the second is given seven days after the first dose and the third 21 to 28 days after the first dose.
For those who have been exposed to rabies, the vaccine is given to prevent the progressive, invariably fatal disease, rabies. In these situations, a total of four shots are given in the shoulder muscle: The first shot is given immediately after exposure to a rabid animal, then again three days later, seven days later, and 14 days later.
Rabies is deadly
There are fewer than 10 known cases of unvaccinated people surviving rabies once they developed symptoms of the disease.
Reviewed by Paul A. Offit, MD, Lori Handy, MD, MSCE on March 03, 2017