Veterinary research is key to protecting zoo animals from SARS-CoV-2

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Jürgen A. Richt, director of K-State’s Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases and Regents Distinguished Professor at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine, recently tested an animal vaccine for safety and efficacy against SARS-CoV-2.
Photo courtesy K-State

Kansas State University (K-State) veterinary researchers are working to protect zoo animals from the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Testing by the university’s Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases is helping to protect more than 100 species of mammalian animals in zoos around the world from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID -19.

The US Department of Agriculture has authorized the case-by-case use of an experimental vaccine developed by Zoetis to help protect mammals living in zoos, K-State reports. The company donated the vaccine to more than 80 zoos, conservatories and wildlife facilities, which have been using it since the summer of 2021.

Researchers at K-State Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases (CEEZAD) tested the vaccine for safety and efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 infection. Team leader Jürgen A. Richt, DVM, PhD, director of CEEZAD and Distinguished Regents Professor at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says such vaccines go a long way in protecting animal populations, including the threatened species.

“This development work on a COVID-19 vaccine for animals is an important step in protecting susceptible animal species against SARS CoV-2, as research has shown that SARS-CoV-2 can pose a threat to segments of pet, wildlife and zoo. animal populations,” says Dr. Richt. “We know that domestic and large cats and many zoo animals are highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, and likely acquire the virus from their owners.”

Zoetis originally began work on a COVID vaccine for animals in February 2020 when the first dog was confirmed infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Hong Kong. Animal health authorities worldwide have so far determined that there is no need for a COVID vaccine for pets.

The vaccine testing took place at the university’s Biosafety Research Institute, a center for biocontainment research and education.

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