Animals at Oakland Zoo receive experimental COVID-19 vaccine
© Virginia Zoo

A California zoo has administered some of the first doses of an experimental coronavirus vaccine to its animals, according to a statement posted by the zoo Friday. 

Northern California’s Oakland Zoo administered the jab to tigers, bears, mountain lions and ferrets, the zoo announced in a press release Friday.

The zoo said that it was one of the first recipients of a donation from veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis for 11,000 doses of its vaccine tested for animals. 

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The vaccines, which have been distributed across the country, will "protect the health and well-being of more than 100 mammalian species living in nearly 70 zoos, as well as more than a dozen conservatories, sanctuaries, academic institutions and government organizations located in 27 states," according to the Oakland Zoo. 

The Zoetis vaccine, which was first tested in mink, has been “authorized for experimental use on a case by case basis” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

While there is no evidence suggesting that animals can transmit the virus to humans, several COVID-19 cases have been reported in pets such as cats and dogs, and multiple zoos have reported infected animals, including gorillas, tigers and otters. 

Additionally, some recent studies have suggested that owners may be able to transmit the virus to their pets. 

The San Diego Zoo, which announced that several of its gorillas tested positive for COVID-19 in January, received some doses of the Zoetis vaccine in February to protect its other primates. 

While the Oakland Zoo has not had any reported cases of COVID-19 among its own animals, Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services at the zoo, said Friday that it has adopted safety measures for its animals during the pandemic out of an abundance of caution. 

“Up until now, we have been using public barriers at certain habitats to ensure social distancing, along with enhanced PPE worn by staff to protect our susceptible species from COVID-19,” Herman said in a statement. 

The official went on to say that the zoo was “happy and relieved to now be able to better protect our animals with this vaccine, and are very thankful to Zoetis for not only creating it, but for donating it to us and dozens of other AZA-accredited zoos across the U.S,” referring to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president for global biologics at Zoetis, said in a statement that scientists began looking into a vaccine for animals following the first report of a dog infected with COVID-19 in Hong Kong last year. 

“In eight months we completed our initial safety studies, which we presented at the World One Health Congress last year,” Kumar said. “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.”