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California zoo starts vaccinating animals against COVID-19

By PINKY S. ICAMEN Published Jul 07, 2021 7:07 pm

The Oakland Zoo in California aims to inoculate a total of 110 animals against COVID-19, including lions, bears, and chimpanzees.

The zoo has so far vaccinated its larger animals, which are more susceptible to the virus. The first ones to receive the vaccines were two tigers named Ginger and Molly, which both received two shots of the vaccine donated and developed by veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis.

The United States Department of Agriculture and the appropriate state veterinarians authorized the vaccine for experimental use on a case-to-case basis.

Among the first animals that received the vaccine were tigers, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions and ferrets. According to the Oakland Zoo, next in line for the vaccine are the primates, including chimpanzees, fruit bats, and pigs.

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Vaccinating the animals against COVID-19 was the zoo’s proactive response as many of the animals there are endangered species. In a statement, the zoo said it has used public barriers to ensure proper social distancing and members of its staff have worn PPE to protect the animals.

“We’re happy and relieved to now be able to better protect our animals with this vaccine,” said Dr. Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services at the Oakland Zoo.

While the zoo’s decision was based on the importance of keeping the animals safe from COVID-19 and its ever-evolving variants, some people expressed their concerns on the safety of animals receiving the vaccine.

On its Instagram page, the Oakland Zoo assured those concerned that protecting the animals is its first priority.

“We have been evaluating the scientific literature on animal susceptibility throughout the pandemic, and with increasing numbers of cases in non-domestic carnivores, especially recent and more severe cases from the Delta variant, we are eager to protect our animals,” the zoo said in a post.

The zoo also said all the vaccinated animals are “doing great with no adverse reactions to the vaccine.” But if reaction did occur, preventative measures and protocols were in place.

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Zoetis is donating more than 11,000 doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine to about 70 zoos, some conservatories and sanctuaries in over 27 states.

In January, a troop of western lowland gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested for COVID-19, making them the world’s first known apes to contract the virus.

Apes are said to be susceptible to human respiratory infections and common cold viruses. With this, four orangutans and five bonobos received two doses each of Zoetis vaccine in February according to a National Geographic report.

In April 2020, tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York City have also tested positive for COVID-19.

Among the first animals to get vaccinated at the Oakland Zoo are tigers, which are trained to present themselves for minor medical procedures, including vaccinations. Photo from www.oaklandzoo.org

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is suspected that animals in zoos and sanctuaries testing positive for COVID-19 is due to their exposure to an animal caretaker infected with the coronavirus. In many situations, said the CDC, this happened despite the staff wearing PPE.

In the Philippines, as of this writing, there are no known cases of animals contracting COVID-19.

It was in February 2020 when the first case of COVID-19 in a domestic animal was reported. It was a Pomeranian dog, whose owners were reported positive for the virus.

Since then, there have been reports of pets infected with the coronavirus globally, including cats and dogs. The CDC said most of these animals became infected after contact with people with COVID-19.