Great Apes at Zoo Receive COVID-19 Vaccines

Photo from the San Diego Zoo website

Nine apes at the San Diego Zoo in the US have received two doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine for animals.

One of the orangutans who received the vaccine, Karen, also holds another distinction: she is the first in the world to have open-heart surgery. She had the procedure in 1994.

Nadine Lamberski, chief conservation and wildlife health officer at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, told National Geographic, “This isn’t the norm. In my career, I haven’t had access to an experimental vaccine this early in the process and haven’t had such an overwhelming desire to want to use one.”

The vaccine came after eight gorillas from the zoo became the first great apes in the world to test positive for COVID-19 just this January. Scientists were concerned about the potential of the virus hitting gorillas since there are less than 5,000 gorillas in the wild and the virus could have an impact on their close communities.

The vaccine was developed by Zoetis, an American veterinary pharmaceutical company. They started developing a vaccine for cats and dogs after the first dog tested positive for COVID-19 in Hong Kong in February 2020.

According to Lamberski, the apes are doing well and there are no adverse reactions. Soon, they will be able to check if Karen the orangutan and one of the bonobos developed antibodies. The presence of antibodies indicates that the vaccine may be working.

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