Zoo animals getting their own COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to NJ company
As humans continue to get vaccinated against COVID-19, many zoo animals are getting the double-dose shot as well.
Zoetis Global Biologics, the leading animal health company, with its global headquarters in Parsippany, has been developing, manufacturing and swelling vaccines for farm animals such as cows, pigs, sheep, chicken, fish and companion animals like horses, cats and dogs.
The company's vaccine will be used at the Cincinnati zoo, which has been preparing animals such as gorillas to accept the vaccine voluntarily.
Zoos in Oakland and San Diego have begun vaccinating animals while zoos in Denver and in Wisconsin plan to begin the process soon.
Zoetis Senior Vice President Mahesh Kumar, who leads the company's research and development for biologics from Kalamazoo, Michigan, said initially the company developed a COVID vaccine uniquely formulated for animals as soon as they learned about the first dogs confirmed with the virus in Hong Kong early last year.
Initially, they thought a vaccine might be needed for cats and dogs so they wanted to be prepared, Kumar said. But there's been no need for cats and dogs to be vaccinated against COVID at this time.
He said the best way to protect our pets is to make sure pet owners get vaccinated so as not to pass along the virus to their four-legged companion friends.
But the vaccine can be used to help protect zoo animals from COVID-19. There have been multiple reports of zoo animals getting infected, most likely by their caregivers.
Kumar said zoo animals were getting hit with the virus, specifically primates like gorillas at the San Diego Zoo. The zoo contacted Zoetis requesting the vaccine to be used for chimpanzees and other primates. The zoo was the first to inoculate primates in February. Additionally, the very first doses were administered to large cats at the Oakland Zoo in June.
Zoetis has donated 11,000 doses of its experimental animal-only COVID vaccine to about 70 zoos across the country designed to treat more than 100 different species, Kumar said.
The vaccine is authorized for use on a case-by-case basis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state veterinarians, he added.
Zoos have been very welcoming with the vaccines and very grateful.
"Primarily we want to make sure the vaccine in safe and we're pretty comfortable in doing that. They have used it and the ones who have used it have really appreciated that. We are very proud of what we've done and happy to help the zoos and the veterinarians who help care for them," Kumar said.
There are many strains of coronavirus that affect animals. Zoetis has had many years of experience developing vaccines against coronavirus for many species. Using that knowledge, it quickly was able to develop a vaccine for animals to battle COVID-19, he said.
Kumar also added that luckily there have been no side effects reported among the multiple species where the vaccines have been administered.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.