TOIn early 2021, four orangutans and five bonobos became the first great apes in a U.S. zoo to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. An outbreak in the San Diego Zoo’s western lowland gorilla troop caused panic among staff after the virus spread to the animals, likely from an asymptomatic zoo keeper. Eight gorillas tested positive, with symptoms such as a runny nose, lethargy and cough, and it was feared that the virus would spread to other primates.
“The San Diego Zoo approached us to ask if we had any vaccinations because the primates were getting sick. Fortunately, we had some that we thought would be appropriate, ”recalls Dr. Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president of the US veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis, which developed the jab.
California’s great apes have made a full recovery, but since the beginning of the pandemic there have been fears for the well-being of our closest cousins. In March 2020, experts warned that it could wipe out chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan populations due to their genetic proximity to humans. National parks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda quickly closed their doors to tourists as a precaution, and many rangers now follow strict social distancing guidelines regarding animals. So far, the warnings have not been followed, but the virus has spread rapidly through other groups of animals.
The Zoetis vaccine that the great apes received at the San Diego Zoo in January and February is being developed especially for minks, following outbreaks on dozens of farms around the world. Sars-CoV-2 is highly transmissible between animals and has high morbidity and mortality. Another American firm and researchers in Russia are also in the process of developing mink vaccines, according to the New York Times.
Millions of carnivorous mammals have been euthanized as a precautionary measure in Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of mink fur, with corpses buried in shallow graves. Genetic analysis In Danish strains of farmed mink, mutations were found to be unlikely to undermine vaccines and human therapeutics, but several scientists backed the controversial cull to stop uncontrolled spread through mink populations. Thousands of minks died after contracting the virus and it has been detected in wild mink during animal surveillance near a mink farm in Utah.
If US regulators approve its use in mink, Kumar believes the vaccine could benefit humans as well, potentially halting the emergence of new coronavirus variants that may undermine immunization efforts in humans. The company must show regulators that the vaccine has a reasonable expectation of efficacy and safety, and is conducting trials with mink farmers in the U.S. At this time, it has no blood test data on the efficacy of the vaccine in great apes, but has found a strong immune response in mink.
“We clearly know that the mink in Denmark could transmit the virus to humans. The mink contributed some changes to the virus, so we are obviously concerned about the spread of mink to humans. Therefore, by protecting the mink, you prevent it from spreading to the human population, ”says Kumar.
“We manufacture and develop vaccines for multiple species, including vaccines against coronavirus. So we have been using the knowledge to develop this [for Covid-19]. We had several formulas that we tested on cats and dogs when the San Diego Zoo contacted us. “
Kumar says Zoetis has received several inquiries from other US zoos to use the experimental jab, similar to Novartis’s vaccine for humans, after the great ape vaccines made headlines around the world. But each puncture requires an emergency clearance from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and there are strict rules on commercial use of the vaccine, and developers can only sell inoculations for the listed species.
Zoetis, which exited Pfizer in 2013, began developing the vaccine after family pets in Hong Kong began testing positive for Covid-19, fearing that dogs and cats could be vectors for the spread of animals. to humans. There is no evidence that this is so, but in the UK Veterinarians have warned of a possible link between the Kent coronavirus strain and heart problems in dogs and cats.
In the USDA notice announcing that it would accept license applications for mink vaccines against Sars-CoV-2, the agency said there was very limited evidence that the disease spreads between cats and dogs in non-laboratory settings. It concluded that a Covid-19 pet vaccine would be worthless and would not license species other than mink without further evidence of transmission. Kumar says Zoetis is ready if the virus changes.
“Obviously, we don’t want it to get into cats and dogs. However, for us, it is a major concern that if the virus changes and mutates to become more infectious in cats and dogs, we are ready. We’re pretty sure we’ll have something very fast if something like this happens. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism