Can animals get the COVID-19 vaccine?

can animals get the covid vaccine
Photo via Ryan Summers/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

Ever since the first known COVID-19 infection in a dog was discovered in Hong Kong in February 2020, many have wondered if animals can get the COVID-19 vaccine to fight off the potential sickness. 

While animals cannot receive the same vaccines that humans get, a COVID-19 vaccine made especially for animals has successfully been developed. Produced by the veterinary pharmaceutical company, Zoetis, the vaccine has so far shown to work with dogs, cats, and potentially apes. 

According to Science Mag, the vaccine works like the Novavax version being developed for humans—it delivers a shot of a modified form of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. In October, Zoetis believed it was safe and effective in both cats and dogs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, health experts have confirmed COVID-19 infections in cats, dogs, lions, tigers, pumas, snow leopards, and cougars. 

Scientists are not concerned about domestic pets getting COVID-19 because it doesn’t appear to spread easily from pets to humans, and domestic animals don’t live in clusters, Science Mag reports. 

However, scientists are concerned about how COVID-19 could impact endangered species that live in groups, like great apes and minks. 

National Geographic reports that zoologists vaccinated the first great apes at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in February. Their vaccination comes after eight gorillas at the same zoo tested positive for the virus in January. 

Nadine Lamberski, chief conservation and wildlife health officer at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, told National Geographic this was an unprecedented event. 

“This isn’t the norm,” Lamberski said. “In my career, I haven’t had access to an experimental vaccine this early in the process and haven’t had such an overwhelming desire to want to use one.” 

Scientists are eager to see if the vaccine works on gorillas because there are just 5,000 left in the wild. Because gorillas tend to live communally, researchers worry that an outbreak could do irreparable damage to the species. 

So far, none of the vaccinated great apes have had an adverse reaction to the vaccine. Blood tests should be available soon to show whether the vaccine helped the apes develop antibodies. 

If all goes well, zoologists plan to continue giving the vaccine to great apes, gorillas, big cats, minks, and other species. 

Sources: Science Mag, National Geographic, CDC

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