First great apes at U.S. zoo receive COVID-19 vaccine made for animals
An orangutan named Karen, the first in the world to have open-heart surgery in 1994, has made medical history again: She’s among the first great apes to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
In February, Karen, three other orangutans, and five bonobos at the San Diego Zoo have received two doses each of an experimental vaccine for animals developed by a veterinary pharmaceutical company, says Nadine Lamberski, chief conservation and wildlife health officer at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.
“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,” Lamberski says.
The milestone had been triggered by another: In January, a troop of eight gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park became the first great apes in the world to test positive for the novel coronavirus. The silverback, 49-year-old Winston, fell ill with heart disease and pneumonia, but following experimental antibody treatment, he is recovering, as are the others.
Globally, infections have also been confirmed in tigers, lions, mink, snow leopards, cougars, a ferret, dogs, and domestic cats, but the fact that great apes are susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus has scientists especially concerned. Fewer than 5,000 gorillas remain in the wild, and, because they live in close family groups, researchers worry that if one caught the virus, the infection might spread quickly and imperil already precarious populations.
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