TAMPA, Fla. - People are not the only ones who can contract COVID-19; animals can also become infected with the virus, too.
A veterinary pharmaceutical company has developed a coronavirus shot for animals, and ZooTampa at Lowry Park plans to protect the wildlife in its care with the vaccine.
"We’ve been very, very careful about wearing masks around the animals, not getting within six feet," explained Dr. Cynthia Stringfield, ZooTampa's senior vice president of animal health conservation and education.
There have been cases in zoos across the country of apes, big cats and otters contracting COVID-19, usually after close contact with a human who tested positive. Thankfully, none have died, but they did get sick.
"Interestingly the symptoms are very similar to what people get, so upper respiratory symptoms, not feeling great, not eating," Stringfield said.
As more people are vaccinated and restrictions are rolled back, animals in the zoo’s care could be at greater risk. That is one of the reasons zoo leaders recently decided to use a coronavirus shot developed by veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis.
"We’re not worried about birds, we're not worried about reptiles; we're only looking at mammals," said Stringfield.
We are told dozens of animals could be on that list to get the vaccine, including primates, felines, bats, and smaller mammals related to the mink family.
"We look at all of our animals' health individually and we make decisions in the animal’s best interest to protect their health," Stringfield said.
This vaccine for animals is completely different from the one given to humans. It is administered in two doses and appears to work for a variety of species.
Zoetis is donating doses to ZooTampa and others. The shot is still considered experimental for animals since the USDA has not approved it.
"We feel very confident that it’s a very safe vaccine," added Stringfield
Officials are still figuring out their vaccination prioritization and strategy for the wildlife. We are told that likely will not happen until late summer or early fall.