Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo Gives COVID Vaccine to ‘High-Risk Animals'

Cathy Bazzoni/CZS-Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo animals are now among the most recent recipients of the coronavirus vaccine, the Chicago Zoological Society revealed Tuesday.

According to the zoo, veterinarians have started administering a vaccine designed specifically for animals to "high-risk" species, or ones that are more susceptible to contracting the virus. The doses were donated by Michigan-based animal health company Zoetis, the zoological society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, said.

“The health and well-being of the animals at Brookfield Zoo is always our leading priority, and the threat of COVID-19 to humans and animals is interconnected,” Dr. Mike Adkesson, vice president of clinical medicine for the Chicago Zoological Society said in a statement. “We know a variety of animal species can transmit and become sick from coronaviruses. Vaccinating animals is not only important for their own health, but healthy animals help keep humans healthy too."

The animal version of the COVID vaccine has been authorized for experimental use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a case-by-case basis.

“When the first dog was infected with COVID-19 in Hong Kong last year, we immediately began to work on a vaccine that could be used in domestic animals, and in eight months we completed our initial safety studies, which we presented at the World One Health Congress last year. While thankfully a COVID-19 vaccine is not needed in pets or livestock at this time, we are proud that our work can help zoo animals at risk of COVID-19,” Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president of global biologics at Zoetis.

Animals, like humans, will receive two doses of the vaccine, with each dose given three weeks apart. They are considered fully vaccinated two weeks following the second dose.

The zoo said it plans to closely monitor animals that do receive the vaccine.

Primates, small carnivores, "animal ambassadors," big cats and bears will be among the first groups to receive the vaccine.

"Due to the respectful and trusting relationships developed between the animals and care staff, many of the zoo’s animals voluntarily participate in their own health care, in this case holding still while veterinary staff administers the vaccination," the zoo said in a release.

Once western lowland gorillas and Rodrigues fruit bats have been fully vaccinated, which is scheduled to be later this fall, the zoo’s Tropic World: Africa section and Australia House will reopen to guests, zoo officials said.

Zoetis is donating more than 11,000 doses of the vaccine to zoos as well as conservatories, sanctuaries and other organizations across 27 states.

The Detroit Zoo began vaccinating animals late last month.

Though no cases have been reported there, lions, tigers, leopards and gorillas at other U.S. zoos have contracted the virus. A tiger and lion have died from COVID in Europe and India.

Great apes at the San Diego Zoo were vaccinated after an outbreak of COVID-19 infected the zoo's gorilla troop in March.

The San Diego Zoo reached out to Zoetis to request the vaccine for emergency use after their eight-member gorilla troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park became infected with COVID-19 in January.

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