Phoenix Zoo giving out COVID-19 vaccines to susceptible animals

Dec 10, 2021, 4:35 AM | Updated: 9:34 am
In this Nov. 24, 2021 photo provided by the Phoenix Zoo, staff at the Phoenix Zoo deliver a COVID-1...

In this Nov. 24, 2021 photo provided by the Phoenix Zoo, staff at the Phoenix Zoo deliver a COVID-19 vaccination to an Emperor tamarin, a small primate, at the Animal Care Center at the Phoenix Zoo in Phoenix, Ariz. The zoo is the latest in the United States to vaccinate species most susceptible to getting COVID-19 from close contact with people. (Linda Hardwick/Phoenix Zoo via AP)

(Linda Hardwick/Phoenix Zoo via AP)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Zoo is one of several across the country chosen to test a COVID-19 vaccine for big cats and other animals susceptible to getting the virus.

“Animal health and human health are closely connected,” Dr. Gary West, a veterinarian at the zoo, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“We started seeing increasingly concerning reports from other zoos where the large cats, tigers, lions, snow leopards were acquiring the infections from their human caretakers.”

The zoo spent much of the pandemic trying to protect vulnerable animals, taking steps including social distancing, limiting close contact with certain species and implementing personal protective equipment for animal caretakers and visitors.

When the vaccine for animals became available, West and others at the zoo jumped at the opportunity.

The zoo received 160 total doses of the vaccine, which was developed by animal health company Zoetis.

“We put together a list of species that we wanted to vaccinate twice and submitted that twice and we were able to vaccine for all those animals,” West said.

That list included African lion, Sumatran tigers and bobcats.

Other species being vaccinated based on susceptibility of clinical disease from SARS-CoV-2 includes Egyptian fruit bats, three-banded armadillo, Linne’s two-toed sloth.

West said the animals are reacting to the jabs about the same as humans.

“So far, we really haven’t seen anything significant, maybe some mild lethargy in a couple of our primates but really, nothing major,” he said.

As part of the vaccine trial, the Phoenix Zoo will send monthly reports to Zoetis detailing any side effects of the vaccine.

West said this vaccine is helping him and his colleagues at the zoo breathe a little easier.

“It really gives me a little bit of relief,” he said. “We can offer another layer of protection for these animals. You know, zoos are some of the last places you’re going to see [some of these animals] and some of the last places these animals are going to be saved in.

“We have some very rare animals such Sumatran tigers and Bornean orangutans and if there’s things we can do to offer additional protection from disease then we’re going to look at those opportunities.”

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Phoenix Zoo giving out COVID-19 vaccines to susceptible animals