‘Doing the best we can to protect these animals’: Virginia Zoo vaccinating some of its animals against COVID-19

COVID-19 Vaccine

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Some animals at the Virginia Zoo will soon be fully vaccinated.

It’s part of efforts to keep animals, staff, and the public safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safety measures like masking, social distancing, and vaccine mandates for staff are already in place, but now up to 30 animals will get their shots as well.

“New to the zoo, there is now animal vaccination for the virus against COVID 19 for animals which has been specifically designed for animals by a company called Zoetis. The company has created this specifically for animals. It’s a different vaccine than you’ve received as a person. It’s not taking away from the human COVID-19 vaccine supplies,” said Dr. Tara Reilly, who is the zoo’s veterinarian.

Reilly is in charge of the general health of the animals such as preventative care and nutrition.

She says it’s been a challenging year for not just the Virginia Zoo, but zoos around the world.

“As the pandemic continues to unfold, as we get new variants, information, and new data, we’ve discovered things about the virus as it relates to not only humans but animals,” she said.

The vaccines were donated by Zoetis, according to Reilly, and will be used on animals that have a higher susceptibility to contracting the virus and have a higher chance of exposure to staff and the public.

So far, four animals have been vaccinated: two sheep and two zebu cows.

Reilly says other animals that will be vaccinated include big cats, non-human primates, mustelids such as otters and meerkats, and binturong.

The sheep and cows were vaccinated first because of their close relationship with the staff and their training to get vaccines.

“Some of our animals, a good number of our animals, are trained to receive the vaccine voluntarily,” Reilly said. “They’re able to ask the animals to pariticpate in their own healthcare. So they will ask the animal. They’ve trained this behavior where the animal will present an arm or a leg that’s easy to vaccinate and administer the vaccine just like they do for other vaccines they give their animals. The animals will present the body part to the keeper and get that vaccine in positive reinforcement for a reward, which in turn for some animals is their favorite food item.”

The four animals will be fully vaccinated next week.

Reilly says more animals could be added as more information comes out about the vaccine.

So far, there haven’t been any negative side effects due to the vaccine, according to Reilly.

“So far it seems extremely safe. While we don’t know how much it might help, we know it doesn’t seem to hurt or cause adverse effects. We want to do as much as we can to protect our animals in our area. That’s just one of the ways we have available to use to protect our animals how we try to protect the public,” she said.

If you plan on visiting the zoo, Reilly says it’s important to practice the safety measures that are in place to keep everyone.

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