Great apes get COVID-19 vaccine at San Diego Zoo

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SAN DIEGO (KSWB) — Several great apes at the San Diego Zoo have received doses of a COVID-19 vaccine made strictly for animals.

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance said four orangutans and five bonobos now are vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2. Veterinarians received a limited supply of a COVID-19 vaccine called Zoetis, designed only for animals, a San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance spokesperson said.

The great apes were vaccinated in February and have shown no signs of adverse reactions.

It comes a month after a gorilla troop caught COVID-19 at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido. Park staff said the gorillas were infected with the B.1.429 variant of the coronavirus, which had been prevalent in California.

The troop was under close observation following the diagnosis with some gorillas showing symptoms, including mild coughing, congestion, nasal discharge and intermittent lethargy.

But the gorillas have recovered well, officials say.

A spokesperson said the previously infected gorillas didn’t receive the vaccine because experts believe they developed their own immune response.

“I know, like a good parent, the zoo will do everything it can to protect the health and well-being of the animals in its care,” said Bill Toone, founder of ECOLIFE Conservation. “For those animals that will stay in the zoo’s collection, getting them vaccinated and doing everything they can to protect them is absolutely essential.”

However, he does have a concern.

“One of my concerns is that if there’s animals for example that are part of a population that’s being considered for reintroduction, do we want to create animals that we have artificially created an immune response in them, and we don’t know how that reacts in wild populations,” Toone said.

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance said it doesn’t plan to release the vaccinated animals into the wild.

Instead, animal experts hope to better understand how the virus affects great apes and how to curb transmission.

FOX2 reached out to the St. Louis Zoo which said it is eagerly anticipating the release of an animal COVID-19 vaccine. A Zoo spokesperson said when it is available, it will most definitely consider it for some of the animals at the Zoo in the context of our holistic animal health management preventative practices.

The St. Louis Zoo says the best thing it can do until that time is keep our animal care team health and safe and that is exactly what they are doing.

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