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Great Apes at San Diego Zoo receive experimental COVID vaccine

'Becoming the first non-human primates to be vaccinated against COVID-19'
Great Apes at San Diego Zoo receive experimental COVID vaccine
Posted at 5:18 PM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 20:55:14-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Nine great apes at the San Diego Zoo are the first non-human primates to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

In 1994, at the San Diego Zoo, an orangutan named Karen became the first ape in the world to have open heart surgery.

Karen just made more history. Last month, she and three other orangutans, along with five bonobos, also called pygmy chimpanzees, became the first great apes to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Each received two doses -- three weeks apart -- of an experimental vaccine developed by veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis.

"We want to protect our great apes, our endangered species that are irreplaceable," said Lamberski, Chief Conservation and Wildlife Health Officer of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

In mid-January, the zoo announced its troop of eight gorillas had contracted COVID-19 from an asymptomatic keeper. All are recovering. Lamberski says those cases made it clear the other apes were at risk.

Lamberski says the vaccine shares similarities to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. She says it's been tested in dogs, cats and mink. It's spike protein was tested in macaque monkeys.

"We had one orangutan rub his shoulder, but no there have been no significant adverse reactions," said Lamberski.

The zoo will soon be vaccinating another three bonobos and a gorilla. Other zoos have begun inquiring about the vaccine.

"We’ve directed them back to Zoetis to essentially reserve some vaccine for their use ... The company is making is more vaccine available in April and May," said Lamberski.

While COVID-19 has been detected in animals like cats, dogs and tigers, the most deadly outbreak has been among mink. More than 12,000 have died on farms in several states.