Vaccinating Zoo Animals Against COVID-19


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Dr. Alex Herman, chief veterinarian at the Oakland Zoo explains why several big cat and bear species were vaccinated against COVID-19, caused by SARS CoV-2. Domestic ferrets, also susceptible, were protected too. Ultimately primates will be vaccinated as well.

Here is the press release from the Zoetis the pharmaceutical company.

Zoetis is donating more than 11,000 doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine to help protect the health and well-being of more than 100 mammalian species living in nearly 70 zoos, as well as more than a dozen conservatories, sanctuaries, academic institutions and government organizations located in 27 states. The vaccine has been authorized for experimental use on a case by case basis by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the appropriate state veterinarians. The vaccine deployment to dozens of zoos follows Zoetis’ response in January to a request from the San Diego Zoo following confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Receiving their first shipment of vaccines on June 29, Oakland Zoo in Northern California quickly assembled their veterinary and animal care teams to begin vaccinations of their highest at risk animals the following morning. Tigers, Black bears, Grizzly bears, Mountain lions and ferrets were the first to receive their first of two doses. Next are primates, including Chimpanzees, Fruit bats, and pigs. “Up until now, we have been using public barriers at certain habitats to ensure social distancing, along with enhanced PPE worn by staff to protect our susceptible species from COVID-19. We’re happy and relieved to now be able to better protect our animals with this vaccine, and are very thankful to Zoetis for not only creating it, but for donating it to us and dozens of other AZA-accredited zoos across the U.S.,” said Dr. Alex Herman, VP of Veterinary Services at Oakland Zoo.

“Zoetis has a long history of supporting zoo veterinarians and the animals in their care,” said Dr. Mike McFarland, Chief Medical Officer at Zoetis. “We are proud that our innovative research and development work and vaccine donations can help veterinary professionals within the zoo community continue to provide a high standard of care to the primates, big cats, and many other species they care for and reduce the risk of COVID-19.”

COVID-19 vaccine Designed for Animals

Zoetis’ research and development team, headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan, applied decades of experience developing other coronavirus vaccines for cats, dogs, poultry and cattle. Zoetis’ COVID-19 vaccine is uniquely formulated for animal species. Although the virus – or antigen – is the same as in human vaccines, vaccines for animals vary based on the carrier – or adjuvant – that is used. The unique combination of antigen and carrier ensures safety and efficacy for the species in which a vaccine is used. To further support veterinarians’, Zoetis also developed and validated feline and canine-specific real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) diagnostic tests to detect SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).

“When the first dog was infected with COVID-19 in Hong Kong last year, we immediately began to work on a vaccine that could be used in domestic animals, and in eight months we completed our initial safety studies, which we presented at the World One Health Congress last year. While thankfully a COVID-19 vaccine is not needed in pets or livestock at this time, we are proud that our work can help zoo animals at risk of COVID-19,” said Mahesh Kumar, Senior Vice President, Global Biologics at Zoetis. “More than ever before, the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the important connection between animal health and human health, and we continue to monitor for emerging infectious diseases that can impact animals as well as people.”

Combating Emerging Infectious Diseases

Based on the belief that healthier animals help create a healthier world, Zoetis is committed to using its innovation expertise in animal health to help solve sustainability challenges facing animals and people. One of the company’s goals within its Driven to Care long-term sustainability initiative is to combat diseases that pose the greatest risk to animals and humans. Through its Center for Transboundary and Emerging Diseases (CTED), Zoetis has developed vaccines for high-impact emerging diseases around the world including Avian Influenza, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, Schmallenberg Virus, Hendra Virus and Canine Influenza. The Center continues to work on vaccines for Foot and Mouth Disease and African Swine Fever.

Through the CTED, Zoetis is watching approximately 200 diseases identified by the WHO as zoonotic, including Avian Influenza, Rabies, Lyme disease, West Nile Virus, and SARS-CoV-2. According to the World Health Organization, at least 75% of emerging infectious diseases have an animal origin, including COVID-19. Now more than ever before, we can all see the important connection between animal health and human health.

personal note:  The U.S. is vaccinating zoo animals and in time this effort will continue to occur worldwide at accredited institutions. While, the U.S. is fortunate to have enough vaccine and more for all eligible people, as humans in most nations are begging for vaccine and are desperate, so many U.S. citizens have somehow politicized a pandemic and for absolutely ridiculous and unsubstantiated reasons continue to refuse the vaccine for SARS CoV-2. As a result, increasing risk to themselves, those they love and the community at large.  I am not speaking of those medically unable to vaccinate. And actually, those who deny vaccination for reasons like the vaccine inserts some sort of “spy device” or “will kill all of us” or “isn’t proven, yet” or are anti-vaxers or for reasons only they understand are putting those truly at risk individuals who can’t be vaccinated in further danger as well. Not vaccinating (except for a real medical explanation) is cowardice and selfish.