Audubon Zoo‘s gorillas and orangutans are in the process of receiving their first dose of the animal COVID-19 vaccine thanks to the company Zoetis. Audubon also plans to vaccinate cats and mustelids such as otters at Audubon Zoo and Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in its next series of vaccinations.
Zoetis is donating more than 11,000 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to help 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.
The new vaccine has been authorized for use on a case-by-case basis by the United States Department of Agriculture and the appropriate state veterinarians.
“It’s very important to us to protect our animals against COVID-19 and the Delta variant,” said Audubon’s Senior Veterinarian Bob MacLean. “We have been evaluating the scientific literature on animal susceptibility throughout the pandemic, and we are eager to protect our animals.”
Zoetis’ research and development team, headquartered in Michigan, applied decades of experience developing other coronavirus vaccines for cats, dogs, poultry and cattle. Zoetis’ COVID-19 vaccine is uniquely formulated for animal species and does not pull from the doses available to humans.
“Although there are no long-term studies since the virus emerged less than two years ago, development studies by Zoetis demonstrated the vaccine to be safe and have a reasonable expectation of efficacy in mounting an immune response in animals,” said MacLean.
All the animals receiving the vaccine at the Zoo and Aquarium voluntarily participate in their own health care through positive reinforcement training and are not put under anesthesia to receive their vaccination. They have been trained to sit, stand or present their bodies during regular health checks by animal care and veterinary staff.
Animal care staff working in close proximity with animals most susceptible to the virus have been following strict PPE protocols since the start of the pandemic. Giraffe feeds, otter feeds, and other close encounter guest opportunities at the Zoo have been paused as a precautionary measure for animal safety.
MacLean added, “This proactive measure is an additional layer of protection. The health of the animals in our care, staff and guests is our top priority.”