DENVER — The Denver Zoo will start vaccinating some of its animals for COVID-19 as early as next week.
Zoologists say they have yet to formulate a specific plan for which animals will be vaccinated first, but they are working with the veterinary vaccine company Zoetis to receive doses for its animals.
"It's very important to us to provide protection for our animals," said Dr. Scott Larsen, the vice president of animal health at the Denver Zoo. "Our primates and carnivores will be at the top of the list."
The veterinary vaccine is being developed separate from the ones for human use. The Zoetis vaccine is designed primarily for mammals. Though transmission is rare between humans and other species, there have been several documented cases of COVID-19 in large cats, monkeys, and certain rodent populations. In Denmark, mink farmers were forced to euthanize millions of mink because of a coronavirus outbreak among the population there.
"We know some of those animals — like gorillas and tigers, mink, otters — can all be infected. But for a lot of these others, we don't know what the susceptibility is," Larsen said. "For animals, we want to be able to protect them similar to (how) we're trying to protect people."
At this point, veterinary scientists do not believe that common house pets like cats or dogs are in significant danger of catching COVID-19. As millions of families quarantined with their pets over the past year, cross-species transmission was low.
"There are 85 million dogs in the United States and 90 million cats," said Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, a veterinarian at VCA Alameda East Veterinary in Denver. "If we were going to see problems... I think we would be seeing it."
That is not to say infections are not possible, Fitzgerald noted, but widespread coronavirus infections are not prevalent at this point in time. He has not recommended to the families of his patients that they administer a COVID-19 vaccine.
"At least right now, we have no plans to vaccinate dogs and cats nationwide," Fitzgerald said. "But that's not to say you can't change it in a heartbeat."