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Tampa zoo animals may get COVID-19 vaccine in summer or fall

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A Florida zoo will start to vaccinate animals later this year, using a COVID-19 vaccine specifically designed for wildlife to help keep the more susceptible species safe when the zoo reopens.

Throughout the pandemic, reports have shown that some species of animals are susceptible to the virus, including apes and mink populations. Millions of minks have been culled periodically after farmers discovered an infection and took extreme caution.

So far, three vaccines have been approved for human use, but those vaccines wouldn’t translate to animals. Luckily, a vaccine does exist now for animal use: the Zoetis vaccine.

Zoetis touts itself as the largest producer of medicine and vaccinations for pets and livestock and it has stepped up to handle the infection among animal populations.

For zoos like ZooTampa, it is a welcome relief.

“We’re very excited here at ZooTampa that we have access to an animal COVID vaccine,” Dr. Cynthia Stringfield, senior vice president of animal health conservation and education at ZooTampa, told Fox 13 News. “This is a totally separate vaccine from the human vaccines.”

Stringfield stated that no animals at the zoo have either tested positive or died from the coronavirus. However, the vaccine will ensure that record continues, as other zoos have not been so fortunate. 

The San Diego Zoo found a number of gorillas had tested positive for COVID-19 in January 2020, prompting the zoo to accept early-stage access to the Zoetis vaccine. The zoo vaccinated four orangutans and five bonobos in February, according to National Geographic.

Now, the vaccine will see widespread use, bringing relief to zoos and pet owners alike.

“What we’re seeing so far is that many species seem susceptible,” Stringfield explained. “Clinically, what we are seeing so far is that certain species seem to be more at risk from developing the virus.”

“There was just an otter case at the Georgia Aquarium a few days ago; so mink, otter, meerkats, those types of animals are at risk.”

ZooTampa spokesperson Sandra Torres told Fox News that the zoo has yet to finalize its vaccination program.

“We haven’t fully finalized the plan,” Torres told Fox News. “We would start with the animals that are more susceptible to the virus, but that’s all we know.”

A recent study published in the Veterinary Record last week found evidence to support the fact that the virus can pass from humans to cats, while separate studies found that dogs could also contract the virus.

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