It is known that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, has not only attacked humans, animals have also been its victims. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask, is it necessary to vaccinate animals as well? Scientists respond.
Almost from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been known in the scientific field that animals can also catch and transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus. With various vaccines on the market to immunize humans, scientists are beginning to wonder whether animals need to be inoculated as well, especially domestic ones like dogs and cats.
On the other hand, the scientific community is concerned that humans will transmit the virus to wildlife, causing another kind of environmental crises.
As countries around the world work on vaccine procurement processes to immunize their populations, it is also necessary to ask whether it will be necessary to create a vaccine for animals, and how long it may take to do it, if the first answer is yes.
Is it urgent to vaccinate pets?
According to specialists, there is no urgent need, at the moment, to develop a vaccine for pets. On the one hand, it is not known exactly how many dogs, cats and other animals have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
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“Cats and dogs don’t play an important role in the maintenance or transmission of the disease to humans,” says executive vice president of Health Policy and EcoHealth Alliance, an NGO that tracks emerging diseases in animals William Karesh. For him, from a public health point of view, a vaccine for animals is not a necessity.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which grants commercial vaccines for pets, is not currently approving any vaccine for COVID-19, says Joelle Hayden USDA spokesperson. He explained that although companies have total freedom to research and develop these types of vaccines, “but without a license, they can’t sell or distribute them.”
In addition to cats and dogs, lab studies point out that SARS-CoV-2 can infect a variety of animals: squirrels, sheep, sperm whales, and more. In this sense, the vice president of science and outreach of EcoHealth, Jonathan Epstein, recalls that respiratory viruses in the past have also infected the apes’ family.
If this happened with SARS-CoV-2, it would be a red alert for some species that are in danger of extinction in Africa and Asia. For him, regardless of what animal it is, the key is in the way we relate to animals. Those who keep animals in charge, especially those who work in zoos, or have fields where they keep livestock, should wear face masks, Epstein says.
Meanwhile, Russia is developing a vaccine against the coronavirus for animals, which promises to be ready by January 2021. With the advances in vaccines for humans, translating these doses for the animal world may be simpler than it seems. In fact, vaccines approved for humans have previously had safety tests on hamsters, mice or monkeys, so there is already evidence of how they operate in these creatures.
“Different species have different immune responses, so you may need to double or triple the antigen level in, say, dogs versus cats. But the fundamentals of the vaccine approach wouldn’t change”explains Karesh.