Gorillas were the first non-humans to be vaccinated.

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Last Wednesday (3), the San Diego Zoo in the USA became the first institution in the world to vaccinate non-humans against covid-19. According to National Geographic, nine great apes received two doses of an experimental vaccine, four orangutans and five bonobos.

But these immunizers are by no means variations on the vaccines we are taking or a different dose of them. This medication was developed specifically for animals by the veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis, which has been researching ways to immunize since a dog tested positive for the coronavirus in February 2020.

In January of this year, after the 49-year-old gorilla Winston fell ill with heart disease and pneumonia, the eight great monkeys at the San Diego Zoo tested for covid-19, and everyone tested positive. After an experimental treatment with antibodies, they recovered, but head of conservation and health officer Nadine Lamberski decided to order the vaccine from Zoetis.

Animals with covid in the world

In various parts of the world, veterinarians have confirmed infections in tigers, lions, mink, snow leopards, cougars, ferrets, domestic dogs and cats. But the information that the great apes were susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus was of major concern to scientists.

As the global gorilla population today is less than 5,000 individuals, living in close family groups, what researchers fear most is that if one of them contracts the virus, the infection will spread quickly and endanger the entire species. As the effects of the virus on animals are still poorly understood, data such as that of the San Diego Zoo are important for the scientific community.

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After the Hong Kong dog tested positive for the virus, when the pandemic began to show signs of its amplitude, the American drugmaker Zoetis began to develop a covid-19 vaccine specific for dogs and cats. In October, the company declared that the new vaccine was safe for both species.

The vaccine and the San Diego Zoo

At the time, Lamberski was already following the development of the Zoetis vaccine. When the gorilla group tested positive for covid-19 in January, the zoo’s health officer decided to vaccinate everyone, even though she knew the immunizer had been tested only on dogs and cats.

The anxiety of the zoo administrators focused mainly on the safety of the population of 14 gorillas, eight bonobos and four orangutans, which, in addition to being potentially vulnerable to the virus, share space in closed lodgings, conducive to the spread of diseases.

In February, while they were enjoying their favorite foods, the nine great monkeys unnoticed the prick of the vaccine needle and, according to National Geographic, had no adverse reactions and are currently in excellent health.

The blood of the orangutan Karen and a bonobo was collected to see if they developed antibodies, a sign that the vaccine is effective. The remaining eight simians, who live in another sector of the zoo, in the safari park, and have not contracted the virus, will receive doses 60 to 90 days after infection, as recommended by the protocol.

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