In world first, apes at San Diego Zoo given experimental Covid vaccine

Four orangutans and five bonobos at the San Diego Zoo have become the first non-human primates to be vaccinated against coronavirus, using an experimental drug originally intended for house pets.

All nine apes received two doses of a shot developed by Zoetis, a veterinary pharmaceutical company. Although the experimental jab was designed for dogs and cats, the primates are doing well and have yet to experience any adverse effects. 

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Staff at the California animal park began administering the shots to some of the apes beginning in January, finishing the job by early March. The apes were selected for the procedure after being identified as particularly vulnerable to the disease. Temperament was also a factor. Zoo workers distracted the primates with treats so that they wouldn’t notice the syringe. 

Notably, one of the recipients, a 28-year-old female Sumatran orangutan named Karen, previously made headlines after becoming the first ape to undergo open-heart surgery in 1994. 

The decision to vaccinate the apes was made after eight gorillas at the zoo tested positive for Covid-19 in January. The animals were not given the jab because it’s believed that they naturally developed antibodies against the virus. 

It’s not unusual for apes to receive vaccines developed for other species. For example, the primates at the San Diego Zoo are administered human flu and measles shots. However, it’s believed that this is the first time that non-human primates have been inoculated against coronavirus. 

Zoos have not been spared during the ongoing health crisis. In April, four tigers and three lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for Covid-19. Since then, efforts have been made to roll out a vaccine that could protect animals from the virus. Russia has been carrying out clinical trials on a vaccine developed specifically for domestic animals and mink. 

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