Henry Vilas Zoo plans to vaccinate animals against COVID-19

Published: Apr. 23, 2021 at 7:49 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Henry Vilas Zoo says it is talking to a vet pharmaceutical company in hopes of immunizing its animals against coronavirus.

Dr. Mary Thurber, a zoo veterinarian and faculty member at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, said the animals that have been most vulnerable to the virus include big cats, primates and otters. While zoo officials says none of their animals have gotten COVID-19, they are planning to vaccinate some species with an experimental drug from Zoetis.

“Being able to prevent an infection would be obviously better than having to treat one,” Dr. Thurber said.

Before it can administer shots, the zoo must wait for vaccine approval by the USDA and the state veterinarian, according to deputy zoo director Joseph Darcangelo. He said zoo officials will also be conducting risk assessments.

“I walk around thinking that I’m very happy that our keepers pay very close attention to how they’re feeling because, if you think about it, where is that contact or where is that exposure most likely to occur? Those that work with animals,” Darcangelo said.

Dr. Thurber explained, animals and humans have some of the same receptor proteins that cause COVID infections, but this doesn’t mean animals will get shots from brands like Pfizer or Moderna.

Dr. Thurber also said not all animals, including dogs or cats, will need vaccines. “We’re really lucky, it seems like our pets are not super susceptible, so vaccination for them is something we don’t have to worry about just yet,” she said.

For animal safety, the Henry Vilas Zoo also encourages masks to be worn at all times.

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