In Boston, Zoo New England vaccinating animals against COVID-19

BOSTON — Zoo New England has started vaccinating its animals that are susceptible to getting COVID-19, officials said Wednesday.

The move comes as some zoos across the country are seeing animals come down with coronavirus.

At the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, for example, six lions and three tigers are being treated after testing positive for COVID-19, officials at the Washington, D.C. zoo confirmed last week.

In Chicago, veterinarians have recently begun administering COVID-19 vaccines to animals at the Brookfield Zoo. That vaccination process started in July for animals at the Oakland Zoo in Oakland, California.

Also in July, an unvaccinated snow leopard at the San Diego Zoo tested positive for COVID-19.

In Boston, Zoo New England said it has not seen any cases of COVID-19 with animals either at the Franklin Park Zoo or at the Stone Zoo.

But “this vaccine is an important preventative health measure to protect species that are susceptible to contracting the virus,” said Dr. Chris Bonar, senior veterinarian in Zoo New England’s Animal Health division.

The vaccine was developed for animals by Zoetis, a global animal health company.

The company has donated more than 11,000 doses to help protect the health and well-being of more than 100 mammalian species living in nearly 70 zoos, as well as other animal care facilities, according to Zoo New England.

The vaccine has been authorized on a case-by-case basis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the appropriate state veterinarians, and Zoo New England said it has received approval to administer the vaccines.

At Zoo New England, the species that are at the highest risk -- primates, felids (cats including lions, tigers and snow leopards) and mustelids (ferrets and North American river otters) -- will receive the vaccine first, officials said.

The Zoetis vaccine is administered in two doses, about four weeks apart.

Zoo officials estimate that it will take three to four months to fully vaccinate all of the at-risk species at Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo.

Staff at the Boston zoos have preventive measures in place to protect susceptible species, including wearing proper protective equipment, masking and social distancing around the animals.

“We are deeply committed to providing exceptional care to all of the animals residing at our zoos. While we do not expect any adverse reactions to the vaccine, nor have any been reported from other zoos, we will be monitoring all of the animals closely for any signs of a vaccine reaction,” Bonar said.

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