Trials Now for a Vaccine to Protect Cats from COVID-19


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Cats can get two kinds of corona viruses, one is the feline corona virus and the other is COVID-19 causes by the novel human SARS CoV-2 virus.

Applied DNA Sciences, a biotechnology company in Stony Brook, New York, and EvviVax, a veterinary biotechnology company in Rome, announced  that they have received approvals from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a clinical trial of a vaccine candidate in domestic felines. But why is this important?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture about 54 cats in the U.S. have been identified with SARS CoV-2 causing COVID-19. Each of these cats easily has recovered. In addition, a handful of big cats in zoos have been identified with the virus and all have recovered. Because testing isn’t nearly as robust for cats (as for people), it’s likely many more cats than identified have had COVID-19. Some scientists believe that number is really very, very high since cats can successfully fend off the virus near instantly and without any signs or symptoms, and that most cats exposed to the virus get the virus but only a small minority develop any sign of illness.

And, so far, cats don’t seem to able to pass the disease back to people, though spreading to other cats appears to be possible – details how that happens, even if that happens remain unclear.

Why A Vaccine for Cats Is Important

So, why am I excited about the prospect of this vaccine for cats if cats don’t get sick from COVID-19 and don’t seem to be able to spread it to humans?

First, the more animals that can have this virus and potentially shed it, the more likely it is that the virus than mutate significantly, which is how this all began in the first place. The virus apparently originated in a bat, and then was given to a pangolin (a very rare rare mammal that eats primarily insects) where it presumably mutated enough to be able infect people. What made this possible never should happen, that is the close proximity of bats, pangolin and humans in an unsanitary place. No matter, cats are obviously in close contact with people. And the concern is that, even if cats aren’t harmed, the virus can further mutate in a cat enough  – particularly if there is a reservoir of virus in cats – to negate effects of the current vaccine.

Also, the hope is to use cats to potentially create a vaccine to protect mink, who are like cats susceptible to COVID-19, but unlike cats they become ill, and apparently can transmit the virus back to humans. Many thousands of mink on mink farms in various nations, including the U.S. have been culled. Mink farms are awful places but here’s a market for mink stoles and coats.  In my view, at least in the U.S., mink farms should simply be shut down for good. But that isn’t happening. Again, the idea is to prevent a reservoir of virus.

In addition to all that, if a vaccine for SARS Co-V-2 can be developed to protect cats from what is a human coronavirus, perhaps a similar vaccine can be created to protect cats from the feline coronavirus. The feline coronavirus is ubiquitous where kittens are in close contact with other kittens, and is shed through cat poop. Kittens don’t usually even get sick, as this very common virus is pretty much benign in kitties. If they do get an upset tummy or mild fever, it typically doesn’t last much more than 24 hours. However, inside some cats a weird mutation occurs, and the benign feline coronavirus is transformed into a potentially fatal immune-mediated disease called feline infectious peritonitis or FIP. Cats can’t get FIP if they don’t get the feline coronavirus, so preventing the feline coronavirus would ultimately save many cat lives.

Winn Feline Foundation FIP Symposium: Purrsiong FIP and WINNing white paper.