testing a new oral vaccine to treat the Plague in prairie dogs. Most news accounts refer to this as the Sylvatic plague, but don't be fooled; this is our friend Yersinia pestis, the same bacterium that causes Bubonic plague in humans. There have long been vaccines for the plague, but it is very expensive to catch thousands of prairie dogs and give them shots. They also used to spread pesticide dust to control fleas, but nobody much likes the idea of spreading tons of flea-killing dust across what are supposed to be wild prairies. So everybody is happy that tests of the new oral vaccine, given by spreading peanut-butter flavored kibbles from airplanes or trucks, seem to be working out.
The point of vaccinating is not so much to protect prairie dogs, who have lived with the plague for centuries and so can obviously survive it, but to protect humans – about a dozen people get the plague every year in the US, mostly from hanging around wild rodents in the West – and endangered black-footed ferrets.
Plus, if we get good enough at this sort of thing it might have all kinds of uses, like controlling Lyme disease by vaccinating mice.
And while I'm on the subject, the answer to the dread question, what happens when the bacteria all evolve resistance to all our antibiotics, may turn out to be vaccines. There are effective vaccines against many bacterial diseases, and they work fine despite the minor evolutionary changes bacteria can pull out of a hat whenever they encounter an obstacle..