Cats, apes, will be first to get the COVID-19 vaccine at Denver Zoo

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) — The Denver Zoo will be among several dozen zoos in the U.S. to start vaccinating its animals against COVID-19.

Pharmaceutical company Zoetis is donating more than 11,000 doses of the vaccine it developed to nearly 70 zoos in 27 states.

Denver Zoo is one of the first to benefit.

“We care deeply about these animals. We are hugely invested in them,” Dr. Scott Larsen, head veterinarian at Denver Zoo, said. “We don’t take any aspect of taking care of them lightly.”

The vaccine was created specially for mammals that can catch COVID-19 like humans can.

The big cats and great apes will get the first wave of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Denver Zoo was given 40 doses to start, allowing 20 animals to get two doses each. But the rollout won’t happen all at once so staff can conduct follow-ups and make sure the vaccines are working as intended.

“We don’t want to vaccinate all of our gorillas for the first time on one day. We don’t want to vaccinate all 11 of our lions on the first day,” Larsen said. “We will vaccinate one or two at a time to make sure it’s working before we give it to everybody.”

By the end of summer, up to 100 animals could get the vaccine at the Denver Zoo. The vaccine is similar to what’s being administered to humans, but it’s overall different.

“We are not taking any vaccines away from humans,” Larsen stressed.

Just like humans, the animals will be monitored for reactions. They, too, can feel some side effects and COVID-like symptoms afterwards. 

“We can’t communicate to them so they understand, but it’s certainly going to give us a level of relief and protection that there is another layer of protection for our animals,” Larsen said.

No animals at the Denver Zoo tested positive for the virus but it’s happened in other zoo’s across the country. The vaccine rollout will begin in about two weeks.

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