Philadelphia Zoo plans to use experimental COVID-19 vaccine to protect its at-risk animals

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The next group eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine: gorillas and tigers.

The Philadelphia Zoo is planning to protect its at-risk animals from the coronavirus with a free experimental vaccine by New Jersey-based veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis. Thousands of doses, which are different from the ones used on humans, are being distributed to zoos across the U.S., like the San Diego Zoo.

The Philadelphia Zoo should receive the vaccine in about a month or two to use on all of its primates and carnivores. The zoo did not specify how many animals would be vaccinated.

“Zoetis was very interested in helping out,” said Dr. Keith Hinshaw, Philadelphia Zoo director of animal health. “They have agreed to supply vaccine at no cost to any institution that is looking for it.”

Because the vaccine is experimental, Hinshaw said they have to wait until it is approved by both the U.S. and Pennsylvania departments of agriculture.

Hinshaw said the Delta COVID-19 variant is a big concern, as veterinarians don’t know “whether it’s more dangerous for them or not.”

“So we want to do everything we can to protect our animals,” he added.

Hinshaw plans to keep a close eye on how the vaccine works on the animals.

“For example, if we are going to take a blood sample from an animal either before or after they are vaccinated, those samples can go to a laboratory and be checked for antibodies to see if the vaccine is actually having an effect,” he explained.

Like most health officials across the world, Hinshaw has two words to share: Get vaccinated.

“We might not be in this situation as zoo veterinarians if we could get COVID under control in our country, and the key to that is getting more people vaccinated,” he said. “So if you haven’t listened to anybody else tell you to get your vaccine, here is a zoo veterinarian saying please get your vaccine.

“It’s not only going to help you, your family, friends, the rest of the people in the country. It’s also going to help the animals at the zoo.”