A chimpanzee examines a toy at Oakland Zoo, California, in April 2020. The chimpanzee was one of 48 animals at the zoo that received the COVID-19 vaccine, specially made for animal zoos.
He ate the whipped cream straight from the can. After vaccination, the baboons got their favorite meat – fillet of beef and kebab kebabs – injected with goat’s milk in their mouths. The baboons also had gum fruit snacks and peeled and boiled eggs. The Siamang, a giant, black-haired gibbon, got enormous marshmallows.
Getting an experimental vaccine to zoos
In California, the Oakland Zoo is one of dozens of zoos, research institutions, and sanctuaries that have requested an experimental COVID-19 vaccine for animals from the veterinary drug company Zoetis. The zoo and 48 animals, including hyenas, chimpanzees, and mountain lions, will receive a dose of the vaccine. The request came in the wake of news that the sizeable Aegean zoo animals at San Diego Zoo, the first zoo animals to receive the vaccine, fell ill in February, reported National Geographic. The news captured the interest of many other zoos and led to our most extensive ever fundraising plan, said Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president of global biologics at the zoo. So far, about half have been vaccinated.
But the introduction is hampered by vocal objections from vaxxers. Scientists and institutions at the center of the launch hope to find answers in the coming months. The vaccine will protect the animals from the delta variant. But pets also need to be vaccinated. And there is no effective vaccine for everyone.
“We have a wide range of animals to care for, from small poison-striped frogs to elephants,” said Alex Herman, the vice president of the veterinary services at the zoo. During the pandemic, zoo animals caught the virus. A Tiger and a Lion at Bronx Zoo in April 2020 and a Gorilla to Gorilla at San Diego Zoo Safari Park. In June, two lions died at a zoo in India after testing positive for COVID-19.
After dogs tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong in February 2020 and reported cases in domesticated animals, Zoetis developed a COVID-19 vaccination for dogs and cats. Will distribute the vaccine experimentally to zoos. As of October 2020, the company is confident that the vaccine will be safe and effective in dogs and cats. The vaccine uses Pfizer, Biontech’s Moderna Vaccine viral vector, and Johnson’s & Johnson’s live virus. It uses a synthetic spike protein that triggers the same antibodies as the live virus. According to Kumar, the Novavax vaccine works better in humans than the Novavax vaccine and has a large-scale efficacy test.
Zoetis has received many requests from zoos and other facilities, but adding logistics and navigating through different country regulations has been a challenge, Kumar said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not considering commercial approval of vaccines for animals except minks from fur farms, where outbreaks can spread quickly, said he.
But for now, they are focusing on U.S. zoos. A year and a half after the pandemic, scientists know little about how the virus affects non-human animals. In many cases, the veterinary community relies on a limited set of data to learn about individual clinical circumstances and sporadic outbreaks in a handful of species as possible. Studies also identify species that are at increased risk.
The San Diego Zoo and Oakland Zoo demanded the vaccine for their chimpanzees, a marauding group of animals that include large cats, bears, hyenas, ferrets, minks, and others. These animals are known to be prone to the virus, and despite the deaths of two lions in India, the majority of big cats and primates had mild respiratory problems and made a full recovery. Two hundred sixty-six animals received at least one dose of the vaccine at the zoo and its safari park.
Does your pet need a vaccine?
None of the animals at the Oakland Zoo showed any side effects, according to Lambertski and Herman. Still, the World Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAA) do not recommend vaccinating pets based on their mild clinical symptoms and the lack of evidence that they can transmit the virus to humans.