San Diego Zoo Vaccinates 9 Apes Against COVID-19 After Outbreak

Millions of people throughout the world are waiting for their chance to receive one of the vaccines protecting them from COVID-19, but the unfortunate truth is that we aren't the only ones affected by the coronavirus.

Although they aren't the only animals that have demonstrating their capability of contracting the virus, The San Diego Union Tribune reported that great apes such as bonobos, orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees are at particular risk due to their close biological link to humans.

And since some of these animals are already endangered, The Guardian reported that scientists warned back in March of 2020 that COVID-19 could potentially wipe out their populations.

It is likely for this reason that what would normally seem like a risky decision could be the best available option for the San Diego Zoo.

Back in mid-January, the San Diego Zoo reported that eight gorillas at its Safari Park had contracted the coronavirus.

According to The Guardian, this outbreak seemed to originate from an asymptomatic zookeeper and turned the animals lethargic while also giving them coughs and runny noses.

Although the gorilla troop has since recovered, the incident compelled zoo staff to make an emergency request for vaccines.

As the zoo's chief conservation and wildlife health officer Nadine Lamberski told The San Diego Union Tribune, "That made us realize that our other apes were at risk. We wanted to do our best to protect them from this virus because we don’t really know how it’s going to impact them."

This put her in touch with Zoetis, a veterinary pharmaceutical company who had been testing in minks, cats, and dogs.

As The San Diego Union Tribune reported, their experimental vaccine (not pictured) stimulates immunity against COVID-19 by introducing the body to a piece of the surface protein the virus uses to latch onto cells. The company was able to spare 27 doses of this vaccine for the San Diego Zoo.

According to The Guardian, the vaccine will likely see use in minks, cats, and dogs — who have also shown susceptibility to the virus — if it receives regulatory approval.

But while the vaccine hasn't been tested on primates, the zoo staff felt that the risks of them contracting COVID-19 outweighed the potential side effects.

And so The San Diego Union Tribune reported that four orangutans and five bonobos received two doses of the vaccine over the a three-weeks period between late January and early February.

One of the bonobos and one of the orangutans have also had blood samples taken in the time since their shots so scientists can measures the levels of antibodies they develop as a result.

With this first step taken, the zoo is also planning to vaccinate three other bonobos and a gorilla soon.

As for side effects, the The San Diego Union Tribune reported that the animals who received the vaccine haven't shown any besides the fact that a couple of them rubbed their heads and the areas where they received the injection.

Lamberski also said that many of the zoo's veterinarians and other staff have since received vaccines of their own.

The vaccines have been administered on a voluntary basis, meaning that the animals involved have needed to willingly sit still and let a zookeeper jab them with a needle.

According to The San Diego Union Tribune, some of the younger and more energetic apes have had difficulty doing this so staff are waiting until they become more comfortable before they try again. The alternative would involve anesthetizing them, which zoo personnel don't want to risk doing.

However, most of the apes have managed to go through this process relatively easily since they're already used to receiving flu and measles vaccines.

h/t: The Guardian, The San Diego Union Tribune

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