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High-Risk Animals At Philadelphia Zoo To Receive Zoetis' Experimental COVID-19 Vaccine

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Some of the animals at the Philadelphia Zoo will be getting an experimental COVID-19 vaccine. COVID can infect animals. Just like with people, they can get a variety of symptoms.

Zoo officials are eager to get a new experimental vaccine for some of the high-risk primates there.

These are a few of the animals who will be getting a new experimental vaccine for COVID-19.

"This is a serious issue for us, not just for people but for animals," Director of Animal Health Keith Hinshaw said.

Hinshaw says animals get the same kind of COVID symptoms as people. Gorillas at the San Diago Zoo were among the first to be diagnosed with the virus and in Pakistan, two white tiger cubs died of COVID.

"In all the cases that we know about in zoos, it has come from a human first," Hinshaw said. "Once it can get into, say you have a group of lions or something like that, then you could have lion-to-lion transmission."

There's no evidence infected animals can pass the virus to people. Animals most likely get infected from caretakers who have close contact. But there are also concerns about visitors to the zoo.

"The thing I worry about the most is people that violate our rules and actually throw things, like a piece of food or something into the exhibit," Hinshaw said.

Great apes share 98% of their DNA with humans and are especially susceptible to COVID, so are felines. Primates will get the first doses of the experimental vaccine developed by Zoetis, specifically for animals.

It doesn't contain live virus and has been safe and has been effective in clinical trials.

Hinshaw said the animals take the vaccine "much better than my kids ever did."

Zoo animals routinely get other kinds of vaccines and are easily trained to get the shots while being distracted with treats.

"They really don't seem to care that much about it at all," Hinshaw said.

Several other zoos are already using the new COVID vaccine. There's a lot of paperwork and approvals involved. Philadelphia expects to get started in the next couple of months.

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