Nov 8, 2021 - COVID

Columbus Zoo vaccinates animals against COVID-19

A Columbus Zoo employee administers a COVID vaccine to a tiger that is sitting against an exhibit fence between them

Mara, a 15-year-old Amur tiger at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, receives a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Amanda Carberry/Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

COVID-19 isn't just a human problem. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has already vaccinated more than 100 animals against the virus, including tigers, lions, gorillas and giraffes.

  • More shots are rolling out in the next few weeks, zoo officials say.

Why it matters: Several species — especially primates and cats, both big and small — can catch COVID from their human caretakers. Many are endangered.

The intrigue: While humans are lured by incentives like gift cards and million-dollar lotteries, all it took to motivate the Asian small-clawed otters was a tasty bite of smelt, zoo spokesperson Jen Fields tells Axios.

What's happening: The Columbus Zoo's animals are trained using positive reinforcement and favorite treats. They approach zoo staff at exhibit barriers and sit down to take injections. This is also how they participate in health exams and blood draws.

  • This reduces stress for the animals, because sedating them isn't necessary.

What's next: Small cats like lynx, servals and Pallas' cats are among the next to be vaccinated, Fields said.

Driving the news: Animal health company Zoetis is donating more than 11,000 animal vaccine doses to dozens of zoos, including Columbus, and other facilities across the country.

  • The shots' immune-boosting ingredients are different from human vaccines and don't impact those supplies.

The big picture: Just under 300 animals nationwide have tested positive for COVID, per the USDA. That also includes pets like dogs and cats, though they seem to be at lower risk for issues than other animals.

Yes, but: The CDC doesn't recommend routine testing of animals, so the actual number of cases is likely higher.

Can you vaccinate your pet? No, and at this stage of the pandemic, most experts agree it likely won't be necessary.


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