Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo to begin vaccinating animals against COVID-19

The Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg has started giving COVID-19 vaccinations to 55 animals in its care.

Tigers, camels and llamas are among the 55 animals slated to receive vaccinations

Samkha, an Amur tiger, is shown in a file photo. Tigers and other animals in close contact with human caregivers will get COVID-19 vaccinations at Assiniboine Park Zoo. (Assiniboine Park Zoo)

Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo has started giving COVID-19 vaccinations to 55 animals in its care.

"Fortunately, we are now able to bring in a vaccine that has been in development for animals, specifically for animals, and begin the rollout of vaccination for the animals in our care," Dr. Chris Enright, the zoo's director of veterinary services and animal welfare, said in a Tuesday phone interview with CBC News. 

While there has not been a single case of COVID-19 among the animals at Winnipeg's zoo, others have had some deadly cases, Assiniboine Park said in a news release.

The Winnipeg zoo is one of a number of accredited facilities in Canada that is vaccinating animals against COVID-19.

"Our staff are really excited. There's literally nobody who cares more about the animals than the people who are spending their lives working alongside and for them," Enright said.

The animals' vaccine is made by the New Jersey-based veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis, specifically to protect species who are at a greater risk of contracting the illness, the zoo said. 

Development of the vaccine began when the pandemic started, according to Enright, and it has become more widely available in the last year.

"This isn't a vaccine that takes away from any human vaccines. This is a vaccine that is made for and intended for animals," he said. 

"So it's not a matter of competing with people and with developing countries [for vaccination] because it's literally completely different vaccines."

Animals that have close interactions with their human caregivers are most vulnerable to illness from COVID-19, the zoo's news release said.

Animals receiving the COVID-19 vaccines will include:

  • Amur tigers, snow leopards and other cats.
  • White-handed gibbons, squirrel monkeys and other primates.
  • Camels, goats and llamas.
  • Skunks and meerkats.

The vaccinations will be given in two doses, approximately three weeks apart.