ZAA-accredited zoos welcome the opportunity to add an extra layer of protection to the health of their animals with a veterinary vaccine for COVID-19 being made available for zoo animals.
Safety was a key consideration in selecting this vaccine option for zoo animals. It has already been shown to be safe and effective in multiple animal species with no adverse effects. The vaccine has no live components, being made from a synthetic protein.
The vaccine is intended to protect zoo animals from COVID-19 infection and disease, including that caused by the latest SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Vaccination will be based on case-by-case risk assessment, focused on species known to be at risk of serious COVID-19 disease. Each zoo authorities should make decisions with their VET, based on the risk level to their animals.
The veterinary vaccine has been developed by Adelaide-based biotechnology company, Vaxine Pty Ltd. Vaxine Pty Ltd are providing the vaccine free of charge to zoos in Australia to assist them in protecting their animals against COVID-19.
Veterinary COVID-19 vaccine approved for zoo animals in Australia
The Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia (ZAA) and Adelaide biotech company, Vaxine Pty Ltd have worked together to make a veterinary COVID-19 vaccine available for use in zoo animals in Australia.
The veterinary animal vaccine, known as SpikeVet, is based on technology used for Vaxine’s human COVAX-19 vaccine and will be made available to ZAA-accredited zoos.
“We explored a range of options to vaccinate our zoo animals and this option was selected considering both safety and potential effectiveness,” said David McLelland, Co-Convenor of the ZAA Veterinary Advisory Group.
“While COVID-19 vaccines for animals have also been developed overseas, it is more feasible to use a locally made vaccine, particularly one that has already been shown to be safe and effective in a broad range of animal species.”
SpikeVet COVID-19 vaccine has an optimised formulation appropriate for animals of very different sizes and is designed to protect against all the major SARS-CoV-2 variants including the Omicron variants.
Vaxine Chairman and Research Director, Professor Nikolai Petrovsky said that their synthetic protein-based vaccine technology is the perfect option for zoo animals, as it has already been shown to be safe and effective across several animal models. Vaxine is very familiar with the veterinary environment having developed a successful cancer vaccine for dogs as well as a vaccine against kennel cough in collaboration with a European veterinary company.
“Our COVID-19 vaccine technology was designed with safety front of mind,” said Prof. Petrovsky. “The aim has always been to provide the broadest possible protection with the highest possible safety.”
Zoos around Australia welcome the opportunity to provide an extra layer of protection for those species known to be susceptible to COVID-19 infection.
“Strict biosecurity practices have prevented any known cases of COVID-19 in zoo animals in Australia so far,” said Nicola Craddock, Executive Director of ZAA.
“But many Australian zoos will be pleased to be able to add the extra protection of a vaccine to animals like big cats and primates, many of which are threatened species.
“This will be especially important as we continue to live with COVID-19 in Australia.”
Not every zoo animal will need the vaccine, each zoo needs to conduct a case-by-case risk assessment based on their site, chances of exposure, animal care processes and susceptible species.
Some animals may receive their vaccination over time during routine veterinary examinations.
The zoo vaccine has been used first at zoos registered as research institutions, with no adverse effects in any animals. ZAA is working on a permit with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to make the vaccine available to ZAA-accredited zoos more broadly.
ZAA continues to work closely with vets in Aotearoa New Zealand to explore options to vaccinate animals at ZAA-accredited zoos across the Tasman.
About the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia (ZAA)
As a peak body, the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia (ZAA) represents the collective voice of the zoos, aquariums, sanctuaries and wildlife parks across Australasia that operate to the highest standards. Using the science-based Five Domains Model, ZAA accredits zoos and aquariums for positive animal welfare. It also leads over 100 breeding programs and contributes to conservation and threatened species recovery in Australasia and around the world.
The ZAA Veterinary Advisory Group is a network of experienced zoo vets, who have worked closely to make a veterinary Covid-19 vaccine accessible by zoos in Australia. It is convened by:
Dr David McLelland Regional Veterinary Officer, Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) Co-convenor ZAA Veterinary Specialist Advisory Group
Dr Jayne Weller Co-convenor ZAA Veterinary Specialist Advisory Group
Vaxine Pty Ltd is a 20-year-old Adelaide-based biotechnology veteran with deep expertise in vaccine development. In response to the 2009 swine flu pandemic, Vaxine developed the first swine flu vaccine in the world to enter human clinical trials. The team has also developed SARS and MERS coronavirus vaccines that successfully protected animal models against these deadly coronaviruses. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak the Vaxine team used computer modelling to design a synthetic spike protein vaccine based on the earlier successful SARS and MERS coronavirus vaccines. This Covid-19 vaccine was shown to be safe and effective in mice, ferrets, cats and monkeys with similar positive findings being seen in extensive human clinical trial testing, and in October 2021 received its first approval for use in Iran. In addition to its successful Covid-19 program, Vaxine continues to pursue multiple other vaccine candidates including against influenza, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, cancer and allergy.
Are human vaccines or tests being used on zoo animals?
No. COVID-19 veterinary vaccine is adapted from technology used to develop the human vaccine.
Zoos will not be drawing resources away from human COVID-19 countermeasure efforts but will instead be complementing such work by extending protection to susceptible animals. This is part of the One Health principal of working to protect both humans and animals against disease at the same time.
Are zoos testing this new COVID-19 vaccine on their animals?
COVID-19 veterinary vaccine has no live components and was chosen by ZAA for its strong safety record. It uses technology that has been shown to be safe and effective in multiple susceptible species. This project seeks to extend this COVID protection to a range of potentially-susceptible zoo animals.
Will all zoos/all zoo animals be vaccinated?
No, vaccination of zoo animals will be conducted on a case-by-case basis. Veterinarians at each zoo will consider the risk profile of their individual animals including species type, likelihood of exposure to COVID-19, potential severity of disease and other possible welfare impacts when deciding which animals to vaccinate.
Based on reports from overseas, snow leopards and lions seem to be at higher risk of developing serious disease from COVID-19 infection. Some other species such as primates may also be affected by mild to moderate symptoms.
Will the vaccine be made available to domestic animals? Why not?
This particular project is only looking at vaccination of zoo species. Certain zoo species have developed moderate to serious COVID-19 associated disease overseas.
Although many individual domestic animals have now been shown to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, it is unusual for infected pet animals to show signs of illness and these have generally been mild. Crucially, there is no evidence that domestic animals are significantly involved in the spread of COVID-19.
Will zoos in New Zealand have access to the COVID vaccination?
ZAA continues to work closely with vets in Aotearoa New Zealand to explore options to vaccinate animals at ZAA-accredited zoos across the Tasman. With no manufacturer based in NZ, options for importing are being explored.
Which animals have already been vaccinated?
Animals vaccinated so far include tigers, lions, snow leopards, lemurs, meerkats, fennec fox, sea lions, squirrel monkeys, binturong and siamangs. Vaccination of these animals has gone well and there have been no adverse effects.