The COVID-19 This month ended the life of Ekundu, a lion who caught the virus at the zoo where he lived in Hawaii, United States, and perhaps could have been saved with a vaccine, still in the experimental phase, designed specifically for animals and much less known than human vaccines.
“When we learned of the first dog infected with COVID-19, a case that occurred in Hong Kong in February 2020, we immediately went to work on a vaccine that could be used in animals“says Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president of Global Biology for the US company Zoetis, the world’s largest producer of medicines and vaccines for pets and livestock.
According to Kumar, in eight months they carried out the initial safety studies and then presented the vaccine at the 2020 edition of the World One Health Congress, an event in which the transmission of diseases between humans and animals is studied in the context of their social factors. and environmental.
For now, the Zoetis vaccine is not marketed and its experimental use is only authorized on a case-by-case basis by veterinary authorities in the US Department of Agriculture.
Zoetis has donated doses of the vaccine to nearly 70 zoos and a dozen reserves, sanctuaries, and academic and government institutions across 27 US states, says a spokesman for the Parsippany, NJ-based company.
The company does not provide information about its donors, but he did announce that he had helped the San Diego Zoo, in southern California, when several of his great apes became infected with COVID-19.
COVID-19: almost 300 pets and captive animals infected
As of October 25, the US veterinary authorities had registered 290 confirmed cases of animals with COVID-19 in the country since the start of the pandemic, including 100 cats and 89 dogs.
They are followed by lions, with 35 cases, tigers (31), farm minks (17), gorillas (13), snow leopards (11), otters (7) and then isolated cases in ferrets, pumas and coatis, according to the US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
In most cases registered in zoos or reserves, sick animals are cured shortly after receiving treatment, as reported by these institutions.
Ekundu was not so lucky, perhaps because, as with humans, the weakest find it more difficult to resist the onslaught of COVID-19.
He was 13 years old, the only male lion at the Honololu Zoo and suffered from a five-year chronic illness that had caused him epilepsy, center director Linda Santos said when announcing his death this week.
Like Ekundu, the lioness Moxy, with whom he lived in the same enclosure and had three children, began showing symptoms of a respiratory illness in early October and also tested positive for COVID-19.
But Moxy responded to treatment and is on the mend, according to the zoo.
Animals: The Search for COVID-19 Vaccines
Honolulu Zoo authorities announced that after the death of Ekundu, who was born in 2007 and arrived in Hawaii in 2010, they have stepped up prevention measures and are trying to find vaccines for their animals.
“We continue to receive many requests for our COVID-19 vaccine for animals and we must abide by the regulations of each country. We are looking for opportunities to help zoos and other organizations dedicated to animals from outside the United States to protect their own,” the spokeswoman said.
Zoetis experimental vaccine is formulated only for animals. The virus or antigen is the same as in human vaccines, but the carrier or adjuvant used is different.
“The special combination of antigen and adjuvant ensures safety and efficacy for the species to which the vaccine is administered. The adjuvant in Zoetis has been shown to be safe for many animal species, the company says.
Zoetis Senior Vice President said that “fortunately today COVID-19 vaccine is not needed for pets or livestock“and showed his pride in being able to help animals at risk of infection in zoos.
“Now more than ever before the COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the important connection between animal health and human health. We continue to monitor if infectious diseases arise that can impact animals and also people“.
Mike McFarland, Zoetis Chief Medical Officer, was proud of the company’s “innovative research and development work” by helping “veterinarians in the zoo community deliver high-level care to primates, felines and many other species “.
Last April the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report on the origin of COVID-19, in which four possible theories are pointed out, including that of the laboratory accident, which the agency considered the least likely.
Peter Embarek, head of the team from the WHO and other agencies that visited Wuhan in China in early 2021 to study the origin of the coronavirus, has said that COVID-19 could start after a researcher in a laboratory in that Chinese city was infected with a bat.