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Cincinnati Zoo to vaccinate animals against COVID-19

[July 11, 2021: Tim Daniels]

Trainers help a gorilla voluntarily prepare to take a COVID vaccine: CINCINNATI ZOO


The Cincinnati Zoo is preparing to vaccinate some of its animals against COVID-19.

Great apes, big cats and other mammals that interact with humans at the zoo are being trained by their care teams to receive the shots without anesthesia.

The zoo is hoping to receive doses of the vaccine from Zoetis, a global animal health organization, later this summer.

“We’ve already started training some animals, such as gorillas, for voluntary injection training,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s director of animal sciences, David Orban. “This allows those animals to voluntarily participate in their own preventative health care and eliminates the risks associated with anesthesia.”

Although an exact timeline is unknown, zoo officials say its animal care teams are working to get higher-risk animals – or those who interact most with humans – ready to receive their shots. It’s a two-dose vaccination, so it’s especially tricky to get them to accept another shot three weeks after they have received the first one.


Vaccines, such as those used to prevent influenza, are a common practice in the zoo’s preventative health care program, so some animals are already conditioned to receive these voluntarily.

Many of the zoo’s animals, including the famed Fiona the hippo, have been trained to participate in blood draws.

Meercats trained to receive COVID vaccinations

One of the most impressive preventative healthcare training feats that the zoo has achieved was to get its giraffes to offer their hooves for the foot care that is critical for that species, zoo officials said.

The order in which the animals will receive the vaccine depends on the status of animals’ injection training when the zoo gets the doses. Much like the human COVID-19 vaccine, the doses need to be carefully stored and used in a timely manner to prevent expiration.

“Our animal health team will have a carefully planned strategy mapped out once we get started,” said Orban. “They have been in close contact with Zoetis and other zoos that have administered shots to their animals.”


Zoetis has donated more than 11,000 doses of the experimental COVID-19 vaccine to help protect more than 100 mammalian species living in nearly 70 zoos.

Zoetis’ research and development team applied decades of experience developing other coronavirus vaccines for cats, dogs, poultry and cattle. It's uniquely formulated for animal species.

Although the virus – or antigen – is the same as in human vaccines, vaccines for animals vary based on the carrier – or adjuvant – that is used. The unique combination of antigen and carrier ensures safety and efficacy for the species in which a vaccine is used, company officials say.

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