The San Diego Zoo gave nine monkeys an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Zoetis, a large veterinary drug company.
In January, a group of gorillas in the zoo's Safari Park tested positive for the virus. Everyone is recovering, but the Zoo asked Zoetis for help vaccinating other monkeys. The company provided an experimental vaccine that was originally developed for pets and is now being tested in mink.
Nadine Lamberski, conservation officer and animal health officer at San Diego Zoo Global, said the zoo vaccinated four orangutans and five bonobos with the experimental vaccine, which is not intended for use in humans. Among the orangutans vaccinated was a monkey named Karen, who made history in 1994 when she became the first orangutan to have open heart surgery.
Dr. Lamberski said a gorilla in the zoo should also be vaccinated, but the gorillas in the wildlife park had a lower priority because they had already tested positive for infections and had recovered. She said she would vaccinate the gorillas in the wildlife park when the zoo received more doses of the vaccine.
Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president of global biologics at Zoetis, said the company is increasing production, largely because of the pursuit of a license for a mink vaccine, and will make more doses available to San Diego and other zoos if possible. "We have already received a number of inquiries," he said.
Infection in monkeys is a major concern for zoos and conservationists. They are easy prey to human respiratory infections and the common cold virus has caused fatal outbreaks in chimpanzees in Africa. Genomic research has shown chimpanzees, gorillas and other monkeys are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the pandemic. Laboratory researchers use some monkeys, like macaques, to test drugs and vaccines and develop new therapies for the virus.
March 5, 2021, 8:37 a.m. ET
Scientists are concerned not only about the danger the virus poses to great apes and other animals, but also about the potential of the virus to enter a wildlife population that could become a permanent reservoir and emerge at a later date around the world Re-infecting people.
Infections with mink farms have caused the greatest horror so far. When Danish mink farms were destroyed by the virus, which can kill minks as well as humans, the mink became a mutated form of the virus and infected people again. This variant has shown resistance to some antibodies in laboratory studies, suggesting that vaccines may be less effective against them.
According to the World Health Organization, this virus variant has not been found in humans since November. However, other variants have emerged in people in several countries, proving that the virus can become more contagious and, in some cases, affect the effectiveness of some vaccines.
Denmark killed up to 17 million minks, wiping out its mink farming industry. Thousands of minks have died in the United States, and one wild mink tested positive for the virus.
Although many animals, including dogs, domestic cats, and large cats in zoos, have been infected with the virus through natural spread and others have been infected in laboratory experiments, scientists say widespread tests have found the virus in no animal in any animal other than the one mink .
National Geographic first reported on vaccinating the monkeys at the San Diego Zoo.