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Zoo New England vaccinating animals against COVID-19

Zoo New England staff has begun vaccinating species susceptible to contracting COVID-19.

“While we have not had any cases of COVID-19 with the animals at Zoo New England’s Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo, this vaccine is an important preventative health measure to protect species that are susceptible to contracting the virus,” said Dr. Chris Bonar, Senior Veterinarian in Zoo New England’s Animal Health Department.

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Zoo New England has a well-established training program for many of the species that reside at Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo. Through this program, utilizing positive reinforcement and operant conditioning, the Animal Care team is able to administer vaccines, perform ultrasounds, and routinely check the animals’ health. The training program is the result of a lot of hard work, dedication and trust built between the Animal Care team and the animals. Through the training program, staff has been working with the animals in preparation of administering the vaccine.

The vaccine was developed for animals by Zoetis, a global animal health company which has donated more than 11,000 doses to help protect the health and well-being of more than 100 mammalian species living in nearly 70 zoos, as well as other animal care facilities. The vaccine has been authorized on a case-by-case basis by the United States Department of Agriculture and the appropriate state veterinarians. Zoo New England has received approval to administer the vaccines.

At Zoo New England, the highest risk species, including primates, felids (cats including lions, tigers and snow leopards) and mustelids (ferrets and North American river otters) will receive the vaccine first. Similar to the vaccine developed for humans, the Zoetis vaccine is administered in two doses, about four weeks apart. It is estimated that it will take three to four months to fully vaccinate all of the at-risk species at Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Animal Health team has been staying abreast of the latest scientific literature on animal susceptibility, and is in close contact with veterinary colleagues at other institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The team has also implemented changes to procedures to ensure the health and safety of the animals in our care. Preventive measures currently in place include wearing proper protective equipment, masking and social distancing around susceptible species.

“We are deeply committed to providing exceptional care to all of the animals residing at our zoos. While we do not expect any adverse reactions to the vaccine, nor have any been reported from other zoos, we will be monitoring all of the animals closely for any signs of a vaccine reaction.” Bonar said.

Zoetis has a long history of supporting zoo veterinarians to help them provide a high standard of care for the animals living in their zoo communities, and is actively working to protect animals worldwide from high-impact emerging diseases. At least 75% of emerging infectious diseases have an animal origin, including COVID-19.