Rabies control in terrestrial wildlife reservoirs relies heavily on an oral rabies vaccine (ORV). In addition to direct ORV delivery to protect wildlife in natural habitats, vaccine corridors have been constructed to control the spread; these corridors are often developed around natural barriers, such as rivers, to enhance the effectiveness of vaccine deployment. However, the question of how to optimally deploy ORV around a river (or other natural barrier) to best exploit the barrier for rabies control has not been addressed using mathematical models. Given an advancing epidemic wave, should the vaccine be distributed on both sides of barrier, behind the barrier, or in front of it? Here, we introduce a new mathematical model for the dynamics of raccoon rabies on a spatially heterogeneous landscape that is both simple and realistic. We demonstrate that the vaccine should always be deployed behind a barrier to minimize the recurrence of subsequent epidemics. Although the oral rabies vaccine is sufficient to induce herd immunity inside the vaccinated area, it simultaneously creates a demographic refuge. When that refuge is in front of a natural barrier, seasonal dispersal from the vaccine corridor into an endemic region sustains epidemic oscillations of raccoon rabies. When the vaccine barrier creates a refuge behind the river, the low permeability of the barrier to host movement limits dispersal of the host population from the protected populations into the rabies endemic area and limits subsequent rabies epidemics.
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