Coronavirus: Oakland Zoo starts vaccinating animals against COVID-19

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Zoo began vaccinating animals this week with doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.

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The California facility became the first zoo in the United States to receive a shipment from Zoetis, a New Jersey-based veterinary pharmaceutical company, the East Bay Times reported. Zoetis was authorized to produce the experimental vaccine by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the zoo said in a news release.

Approximately 11,000 doses are being donated by the company to more than 100 mammalian species living in nearly 70 zoos, KRON reported. Of the Oaklamd Zoo’s 850 animals, 110 will be vaccinated, the Times reported.

Unlike some humans, the animals did not put up a fuss while receiving vaccinations. Handing the animals treats did not hurt, though.

“Nicely done, Kern!” zoo veterinary technician Linden West told her patient -- a black bear rescued from Southern California -- as it received a shot in the shoulder, the Times reported. The bear did not even wince, but enjoyed whipped cream after receiving the shot, the newspaper reported.

“Zoetis has a long history of supporting zoo veterinarians and the animals in their care,” Mike McFarland, chief medical officer at Zoetis, said in a statement. “We are proud that our innovative research and development work and vaccine donations can help veterinary professionals within the zoo community continue to provide a high standard of care to the primates, big cats, and many other species they care for and reduce the risk of COVID-19.”

Other animals receiving shots at the Oakland Zoo included tigers, grizzly bears, mountain lions and ferrets, KGO reported.

Chimpanzees, fruit bats and pigs are next in line for vaccinations, the television station reported.

“Up until now, we have been using public barriers at certain habitats to ensure social distancing, along with enhanced PPE (personal protective equipment) worn by staff to protect our susceptible species from COVID-19,” Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services at the Oakland Zoo, told KRON. “We’re happy and relieved to now be able to better protect our animals with this vaccine, and are very thankful to Zoetis for not only creating it, but for donating it to us and dozens of other AZA-accredited zoos across the U.S.”

Herman added that the zoo will not vaccinate birds and reptiles because they are not vulnerable to COVID-19, the Times reported. Animals with hooves, like zebras, giraffes, goats and sheep, do not need herd immunity, Herman said.

Herman said the animals do not appear to be fazed by the shots and have not experienced any side effects. Three weeks after their first doses, the animals will receive a second dose and will be closely monitored, the Times reported.

“I can’t say that they love it. I don’t think anyone likes getting a shot,” Herman told the Times. “But just like all of us, having them vaccinated is a pretty joyful thing.”

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