Zoos around the United States have begun giving animals an experimental COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by a veterinary pharmaceutical company known as Zoetis, Inc. headquartered in Parsippany-Troy Hills, New Jersey.1
USDA Authorizes Experimental COVID-19 Vaccine for Zoo Animals
Zoetis has donated 11,000 doses of the vaccine to about 70 U.S. zoos, as well as sanctuaries, universities and other animal conservation sites in twenty-seven states.2
The experimental COVID-19 vaccine was specifically developed for animals and goes through an entirely different approval process with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) than the process the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses for licensing vaccines for humans.3
Mahesh Kumar, Senior Vice President at Zoetis said:
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-19.4
The USDA has not prioritized development of COVID-19 vaccine candidates for cats or dogs. Veterinarians have pointed out there is no evidence that pets transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus to humans.5
SARS-CoV-2 Virus Has Been Detected in Some Animals
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that can cause COVID-19 disease, to people. Based on the available information to date, the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is considered to be low.6
It is known that companion animals like cats and dogs, big cats in zoos or sanctuaries, gorillas in zoos, mink on farms and a few other mammals have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 virus. Zoetis also has developed and validated feline and canine-specific real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic tests to detect SARS-CoV-2.7 The hypothesis is that these animals may have become infected after being exposed to an animal caretaker with COVID-19. CDC officials have said that more studies are needed to understand if and or how different animals could be affected by SARS-CoV-2.8
Zoos in the U.S. Begin Vaccinating Animals
Some animals at the Denver Zoo in Colorado will be getting the experimental COVID-19 vaccine. The primates and carnivores will be the first animals at the zoo to receive the vaccine.9
Vilas Zoo and Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin is planning to vaccinate select species against the novel coronavirus. Two orangutans, three lions, one tiger, the mustelidae, five otters, two badgers and one skunk will be the first to be given the experimental COVID-19 vaccine developed by Zoetis for animals.10
The Oakland Zoo in California began to give the vaccine to its tigers, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions and ferrets. The zoo next plans to give doses to primates, including chimpanzees, as well as fruit bats and pigs.11
Zoetis has provided the same experimental COVID-19 vaccine to mink farmers in Oregon after the state ruled in early 2021 that all farmed mink had to be vaccinated.12
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Click here to view References:
1 Haworth J. Oakland Zoo begins experimental COVID-19 vaccine program on its wildlife. ABC News July 4, 2021.
2 Gorman J. Zoo Animals Are Getting Experimental Coronavirus Vaccines. The New York Times July 2, 2021.
4 Haworth J. Oakland Zoo begins experimental COVID-19 vaccine program on its wildlife. ABC News July 4, 2021.
5 Gorman J. Zoo Animals Are Getting Experimental Coronavirus Vaccines. The New York Times July 2, 2021.
6 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 and Animals. June 4, 2021.
7 Oakland Zoo. Zoetis Donates COVID-19 Vaccines to Help Support the Health of Zoo Animals. July 2, 2021.
8 CDC. COVID-19 and Animals. June 4, 2021.
9 Oravetz J, De Leon L. Denver Zoo animals among the first to get COVID vaccine. 9News July 7, 2021.
10 Wroge L. Vilas Zoo plans to vaccinate some animals against COVID-19 with experimental drug. Madison.com Jul. 5, 2021.
11 Haworth J. Oakland Zoo begins experimental COVID-19 vaccine program on its wildlife. ABC News July 4, 2021.
12 Gorman J. Zoo Animals Are Getting Experimental Coronavirus Vaccines. The New York Times July 2, 2021.