As COVID-19 cases increase across the country, vets are rushing to vaccinate vulnerable animals at zoos across the country.
BALTIMORE – As the nation continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, vets seek to protect a vulnerable group that is often overlooked: zoo animals. But just like their human counterparts, it takes effort to get animals to feel comfortable with the drug.
Trainers at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore regularly exercise with certain animals to prepare them for their future shots.
“Let me know when I can touch it,” said a technician holding a blunt needle in his hand. “Go on. Touch.”
In a well-choreographed dance, technicians drew animals, like Makoda the American badger, with food to rehearse the administration of an animal version of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s a blunt needle that sort of symbolizes this pressure of what a needle might look like,” the zoo technician said.
Sofiya, the zoo cheetah, is next.
“She did really well,” said Ruth Collier, Sofiya’s coach. “She was really motivated to train. Sometimes she takes a few minutes to come. “
The zoo plans to start administering the animal version of the COVID-19 vaccine in October. The vaccine, made by a company called Zeotis, is composed in the same way as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Both vaccines use a deactivated adenovirus that provides the body with instructions on how to beat the coronavirus.
“This is vaccine technology that has been used in animals before and also in different species,” said Dr. Ellen Bronson, director of animal health at the Maryland Zoo. “It’s really important to us. That we know … we can expect it to be safe for different species.”
Vaccinations will focus on three main groups: primates, felids [the cat family], and Mostelas [the weasel family].
“We know from the animals that contracted a natural infection that these were the most susceptible,” Bronson said.
Investigators are still trying to understand why these groups are more sensitive. It remains unclear and CDC says more research is needed
They do know, however, that coronavirus infection in animals has symptoms similar to cough, lethargy and loss of appetite similar to those in humans. But humans present a real threat to susceptible animals because they can transmit the virus.
“Zoo animals are also susceptible to people coming to the zoo who are not vaccinated and could be carriers of COVID,” Bronson said. “For the sake of all of us, get vaccinated because it not only helps you and your loved ones in our community, but also our animals at the zoo.”
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