Sticking their tails through an opening in the fence, and waiting patiently to be pricked by a needle, is how two cheetahs, Bud and Davis, at the Maryland Zoo, will receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
In order for the zookeeper to get a blood sample, the process will be repeated a few weeks later.
One more vaccination, and a total of six blood draws, are scheduled throughout the year for these animals. The samples will be used as part of a nationwide study to help determine how the vaccine works against infection in vulnerable species.
The chief veterinarian at the Maryland Zoo organized a study that involves at least 40 zoos across the United States. The head vet will work with Zoetis and Medgene Labs, the vaccine makers.
Only big and small cats will be included in the trial. Only cats with tails long enough to fit through the fence, and those trained (with treats) to withstand the blood draws, are chosen for the study.
The Druid-Hill Park zoo in Baltimore will give the vaccine to 32 animals. Chimpanzees, otters, badgers, and other species that have caught the virus, are also expected to receive the donated vaccine.
“It’s the big cats that seem so susceptible, and we don’t really know a lot about why,” Dr. Ellen Bronson, the zoo’s senior director of animal health, conservation, and research, said. “We know a lot of nondomestic cats have gotten sick with COVID-19.”
Bronson will send batches of blood to the Cornell University Animal Health Diagnostic Center in Ithaca, New York. Researchers at the center hope the study will show that the vaccine makes enough antibodies to fight off more severe or recurrent infections in the species.
Three hundred forty-six cases of COVID-19 have been reported in zoo animals and pets. Cats have the most significant number of infected animals totaling 110 cases. Dogs, tigers, gorillas, snow leopards, otters, and a few other animals have been infected. U.S farmed minks have also been infected, in small numbers.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the risk of animal to human transmission is low, for now.