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Administering COVID-19 Vaccine to Susceptible Animals

Tulsa Zoo has begun administering COVID-19 vaccines to zoo mammals that are considered susceptible to coronavirus. The vaccine, which is manufactured by Zoetis, is made exclusively for animals. The zoo is prioritizing species based on their risk for developing COVID-19, including tigers, lions, snow leopards, jaguars, bears, chimpanzees and other species.

“Throughout the pandemic, we established many precautionary measures to help ensure our animals remained safe,” said Director of Animal Health and Senior Staff Veterinarian Dr. Kay Backues. “We’re offering the vaccine as an additional form of preventative care, further protecting the animals in our care, including many species which are endangered.”

Each animal will receive two doses, given three weeks apart. It is anticipated all identified animals will be vaccinated by the end of September. Tulsa Zoo animal care and veterinary staff are monitoring the animals closely for any signs of adverse reactions.

To create this vaccine, Zoetis’ research and development team applied decades of experience developing other coronavirus vaccines for cats, dogs, poultry and cattle. Although the virus – or antigen – is the same as in human vaccines, this vaccine was developed only for animals.

“While additional studies are needed as we learn about this virus in zoo animals, we do know it can spread from people to animals in some situations, primarily from close contact with people who are infected with COVID-19. Based on the available information to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered very low,” Dr. Backues said. “Tulsa Zoo implemented special protocols to protect susceptible animals, as we do for any zoonotic disease, meaning diseases that can be transmitted between humans and the animals in our care.”

For example, the zoo limits behind-the-scenes access to certain animal areas and requires animal care staff working indoors in proximity to at-risk animals to wear respiratory protection.

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