As zoos begin to vaccinate some animals, Baton Rouge Zoo holds off, wants more data
BATON ROUGE - At the Baton Rouge Zoo, many animals are natural pros at social distancing, keeping to themselves and their enclosures. That space, along with virus precautions taken by their caretakers, has paid off.
"We have had no cases [of COVID-19] that we are aware of in the zoo, in any of our species of now," Dr. Michael Warshaw, chief veterinarian of the Baton Rouge Zoo, said.
Other zoos nationwide have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 in their animals, like a tiger at the Bronx Zoo last year and gorillas in San Diego in January.
Nearly 70 zoos across the country, along with sanctuaries, observatories, and other animal facilities, are being donated doses of an animal-specific coronavirus vaccine, developed by Zoetis, an animal health group.
"The study they're doing right now is designed to [give] the vaccine, and [do] follow up blood work trials to make sure that you're actually producing a response to that vaccine," Warshaw said.
Last month, the Oakland Zoo began vaccinating high-risk animals, tigers, bears, mountain lions, and ferrets.
The San Diego Zoo, Milwaukee County Zoo, and Henry Vilas Zoo are also among the dozens of zoos participating.
Warshaw says if the Baton Rouge Zoo were to begin administering shots, the tigers would be first up to receive the shots.
"A lot of the things that we have, our tigers, etcetera, are endangered species," Warshaw said. "[There are] not that many of them left, so we want to do everything we can to protect them.
For now, Warshaw and his colleagues have decided to hold off on administering shots, citing the desire for more data from zoos participating across the country.
"We want to see, one, that's it's a safe vaccine," Warshaw said. "So we're not seeing adverse reactions in the animals that are getting it. You know, hypersensitivity reactions or anything along those lines. And B, we want to make sure it's actually efficacious."
If they do prove safe and efficacious, Warshaw says it will be worth vaccinating certain animals.
For now, he expects the zoo will continue precautionary measures when interacting with the animals, including masks and gloves for keepers, those preparing the animals' food, and maintenance and grounds crews.
If all goes well, Warshaw does anticipate an expanding list of animals inside the zoo will eventually get the coronavirus vaccine, in addition to the routine shots they may already receive.
"I think everyone's now realizing this isn't going away," Warshaw said. It's never going to go fully away, so it probably will be something that eventually is going to be in a routine preventative medicine schedule, as well."
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