Humans aren't the only sentient beings on this planet that are at risk of contracting COVID-19; our closest living relatives, the world's great apes, are especially prone to catching the novel disease from us. But a modified vaccine from a veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetics will help mitigate those human-to-ape infections.
Since the pandemic came down now over a year ago, COVID-19 has reared its head across the animal kingdom. Dogs have come down with fatal cases of the disease; big cats have tested positive for coronavirus at the Bronx Zoo, later killing one critically-endangered tiger. “Selfie-taking tourists" continue to pose a threat to wild Mountain Gorillas — who insist on snapping a social media flex, despite the dangers it poses to one of the most at-risk primates. But just like in humans, immunizations in animals can thwart disease and even pandemics.
That's why New Jersey-based Zoetics has pushed to develop effective vaccines that can be used in domesticated animals and, yes, even great apes. Now, some 100 doses of the vaccine — which are specifically engineered to be used in great apes like orangutans, gorillas, and both chimpanzees and bonobos — have been ordered by the Oakland Zoo.
Have a chill b-day, Hahnumahn! This sweet siamang (relaxing here with brother Ganesha) turns 25 today 🎂 pic.twitter.com/TfuhpLDRiC— Oakland Zoo (@oakzoo) March 21, 2021
According to a report by ABC News on the vaccine, roughly three dozen zoos across the United States — including the Oakland Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which was the first zoological facility in the world to use the vaccine on a great ape; the SoCal zoo's a 28-year-old orangutan, Karen, became the first ape in the world to get a coronavirus vaccine back in January — have placed orders for the shots.
“We will jump at the opportunity to get the Zoetis vaccine for our own great apes,” said Oakland Zoo’s veterinary director Alex Herman to the news outlet, who later added the zoo's ordered some 100 doses of it.
The Zoetis initially revived a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide the doses on an experimental basis to the San Diego Zoo. The company, which is the largest private animal health business in the world, will need to apply for the same permission to provide vaccines to additional zoos.
(So while the Oakland Zoo has, in fact, ordered doses of the vaccines, it appears Zoetics will need to gain USDA approval for its vaccine to be used facility’s applicable primates.)
Just like in humans, the severity of COVID-19 could vary between great individual apes. In an earlier report by Associated Press on San Diego's vaccinated great apes, park's infected gorillas had symptoms ranging from runny noses to coughing and lethargy — but all have either since recovered or are on the road to healing. However, a novel respiratory disease similar to COVID-19 that swept through a group of chimpanzees in the Ivory Coast’s Taï National Park in 2004 infected a group of 44 animals; it killed eight of them. And research into the outbreak suggested that the underlying pathogens were transmitted to the group by humans.
It's unclear when the Oakland Zoo might receive their Zoetis shots. Though it's safe to say that properly wearing your mask inside the zoo grounds will not only protect the bipeds around you but our quadrupedally-leaning kin on the other side of exhibit boundary walls.
To plan your visit to see the Oakland Zoo’s nine on-display species of primates, click here.
Image: Visitors view a chimpanzee in its enclosure at the Oakland Zoo on July 29, 2020 in Oakland, California. The Oakland Zoo reopened to the public after being closed for four months due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. 2,500 tickets will be available to the public each day and will be issued with staggered entry times. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)