Tulsa Zoo vaccinates certain animals susceptible to COVID-19

TULSA, Okla. — Staff members at the Tulsa Zoo have begun vaccinating certain animals against the COVID-19 virus.

The vaccine, which is made exclusively for animals, will be distributed to animals who are at risk for contracting the virus. That includes chimpanzees, bears, lions, tigers, and snow leopards.

“Throughout the pandemic, we established many precautionary measures to help ensure our animals remained safe,” said Director of Animal Health and Senior Staff Veterinarian Dr. Kay Backues. “We’re offering the vaccine as an additional form of preventative care, further protecting the animals in our care, including many species which are endangered.”

Vice President of Animal Conservation Science at the Tulsa Zoo, Joe Barkowski, told FOX23, “For animals, the vaccine has not been coming as quickly.”

“The priority for COVID, of course, was to get humans vaccinated and human vaccines developed and tweaked as needed,” Barkowski explained. “So, animal vaccines were being worked on, but it has taken a longer period of time to produce them and to be able to distribute them to places like zoos and aquariums.”

Renee Wall, a patron of the Tulsa zoo, said her first reaction was to question why.

“My first question was, ‘Well, why would they need shots? Who’s interacting with these animals, other than obviously, the zoo help here?” She said. “The more I think [that] they could be in danger, and since they are endangered, that taking that step would be wise to preserve their health and their longevity here at the zoo.”

Other patrons echoed their support.

Amanda Lumpkin comes to the zoo every week with her family. She said it’s her favorite place for her two young sons.

“I knew that they had the buildings closed for a little bit because they could catch stuff so yeah, that’s awesome,” she said. “They can open all the stuff back up.”

While additional studies are needed as we learn about this virus in zoo animals, we do know it can spread from people to animals in some situations, primarily from close contact with people who are infected with COVID-19. Based on the available information to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered very low,” Dr. Backues said. “Tulsa Zoo implemented special protocols to protect susceptible animals, as we do for any zoonotic disease, meaning diseases that can be transmitted between humans and the animals in our care.”

Each animal will receive two doses by the end of September.

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