Five apes and four bonobos have become the first in the animal kingdom to get vaccination for COVID-19.
In February, the four orangutans and five bonobos at the San Diego Zoo each received two doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine designed for animals, Nadine Lamberski, the chief conservation and wildlife health officer at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, told National Geographic.
The vaccine was developed by Zoetis, a veterinary pharmaceutical company. The vaccine was initially developed for dogs and cats.
The decision to acquire the vaccine came one month after a troop of eight gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested positive for COVID-19.
The apes were given a vaccine initially developed for dogs and cats.
While the vaccine — which is not built for, tested in, or suitable for use in humans — had only been tested on dogs and cats, Lamberski believed it was worth the risk to use the vaccine on the apes.
“This isn’t the norm. In my career, I haven’t had access to an experimental vaccine this early in the process and haven’t had such an overwhelming desire to want to use one,” Laberski told National Geographic.
The zoo also plans to give three of its leftover doses to two bonobos and one of the zoo’s gorillas who didn’t test positive for COVID-19.
A spokesperson for Zoetis told National Geographic that other U.S. zoos are interested in doses of the vaccine for their great apes.
The company expects to have more availability by June.
Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president of global biologics at Zoetis, said it remains unclear whether the vaccine is enough to prevent infection successfully.
Cats and dogs showed significant immune responses to the vaccine in the trials, but further studies are needed.
Lamberski said the zoo is considering eventually vaccinating its big cats as well.