#AnimalResearch saves non-human animal lives too

March 25th 2021

A recent article in The Guardian highlights the vital role of #AnimalResearch—to benefit not only to humans, but other animals themselves.

“At the start of 2021, four orangutans and five bonobos became the first great apes at a US zoo to receive Covid-19 vaccinations. An outbreak in San Diego zoo’s western lowland gorilla troop had caused panic among staff after the virus spread to the animals, probably from an asymptomatic zookeeper. Eight gorillas tested positive – with symptoms such as runny noses, lethargy and coughs – and there were fears the virus could spread to other primates.”

Bonobos were among the primates vaccinated against Covid-19 at San Diego zoo. Photograph: San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance/Reuters

The San Diego zoo approached the pharmaceutical company, Zoetis, to inquire if a vaccine was available. Fortunately, they did have a vaccine, and the great apes made a full recovery after they were vaccinated. But what is the Zoetis vaccine and how did they develop it? It is, afterall, not one of the three vaccines that received Emergency Use Authorization in the US for humans. Nor is Zoetis a company geared towards human medicines. Rather, according to its website, Zoetis is “the largest global animal health company.” Like pharmaceutical companies geared to develop and test safe and effective medicines and products for humans, Zoetis conducts research and testing with nonhuman animals. Publicly-available records show, for example, that the company reported using 35,338 animals in research in the US in 2019.

How did Zoetis develop a vaccine for chimpanzees and other animals?

As we reported at the start of the pandemic, we were able to have a substantial leg up on vaccine development due to over a decade of animal research into similar coronaviruses such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. We also reported on the fact that the most common animal in research, the mouse, did not develop COVID-19—but other animal species such as primates, dogs, cats and minks did. It is here that the Zoetis vaccine comes into play. In 2020, Zoetis started developing a COVID-19 vaccine for dogs and cats when they saw that infections in these species were increasing in Hong Kong. In preliminary studies, the vaccine was demonstrated to be safe and have a reasonable expectation of efficacy. The vaccine development work then shifted to minks as the incidence in that species escalated in Denmark and other countries and demonstrated a critical need. When the San Diego zoo reached out to Zoetis, they were then able to provide a supply of experimental SARS-CoV-2 vaccines for the zoo’s emergency use in its Great Ape population.


It’s not uncommon to adapt vaccines for experimental use in other species in cases like these, with the appropriate regulatory permits and at the request of veterinarians.

As we can see from these examples, over a decade of #AnimalResearch not only provided three vaccine candidates authorized for human use, but also vaccinations for dogs, cats, minks and great apes. It is clear example, of many, that #AnimalResearch saves non-human animal lives too.

~Speaking of Research