An experimental vaccine developed and donated by veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis was administered to the zoo’s tigers, bears, mountain lions and ferrets as part of a campaign to protect animals against the coronavirus.
Although none of the zoo’s animals had contracted the virus, Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services at the Oakland Zoo, said in a public statement that the vaccination campaign was a proactive measure. Previously, the zoo had been maintaining social distancing to better protect animal species that are susceptible to the virus.
“We’re happy and relieved to now be able to better protect our animals with this vaccine,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk of animals spreading the coronavirus to humans is low, but infections have been reported in several species. In January, eight gorillas at the San Diego Zoo tested positive for the novel coronavirus, infected by an asymptomatic zookeeper wearing protective gear.
At the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, two tigers tested positive for the coronavirus in April, and while zoo officials said the virus was being transmitted from humans to animals, there was no evidence of transmission from the felines to humans.
Zoetis developed a coronavirus vaccine for dogs and cats, its website says, before shifting to minks. The vaccine has been authorized for experimental use on a case-by-case basis by the U.S. Agriculture Department, according to Zoetis.
“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,” Mahesh Kumar, Zoetis’s senior vice president of global biologics, said in a statement.
Next on the vaccination docket at the Oakland Zoo are chimpanzees, fruit bats and pigs. Zoetis will donate 11,000 doses of its vaccine to more than 70 zoos, conservatories and sanctuaries, where they will be administered to more than 100 mammalian species.
In March, Russia registered the first coronavirus vaccine for dogs, cats, minks, foxes and other animals. That vaccine, Carnivac-Cov, provides an estimated six months of immunity. The Zoetis vaccine was first administered to the primates at the San Diego Zoo, where no infections have been reported since the initial outbreak.