Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, medical experts have been sharing their concerns about the possible impact of the coronavirus on animals. While scientists claim there is not much evidence that pets and wild animals play a significant role in the spread of the disease to humans, there have been confirmed infections in various animal species worldwide. These include cats, dogs, mink and, surprisingly, mink.
Although the impact of coronavirus infection on great apes has so far been limited, the culling of minks in Denmark and the halting of mink fur farming has taught us that it is risky to have uncontrolled coronavirus transmission in the animal population.
Of great concern is that should the virus spread widely among animals, there could be an emergence of new mutations of the disease. These variants, in theory, could be resistant to current vaccines.
To curb further infections in animals scientists began to develop Covid-19 vaccines specially designed for animals. Recently, Russia registered what they announced as the first coronavirus vaccine in the world for animals. Mass production was set to begin in April 2021.
The vaccine named Carnivak-Cov had been tested on cats, foxes, mink, dogs and other animals since October 2020 and was proven effective.
"All test animals that were vaccinated developed antibodies to coronavirus in 100 percent of cases," said Konstantin Savenkov, deputy head of Rosselkhoznadzor, the agriculture oversight agency in Russia.
This is very welcome progress and a very important step towards disrupting coronavirus mutations.
Is It Common For Animals To Become Infected With Covid-19 And Are Coronavirus Vaccines For Them Really Necessary?
The data on this is quite limited. Most of what is known is from small-scale studies and reports. The process of learning about the virus that causes COVID-19 is ongoing. What we do know for a fact is that it is possible for it to spread from people to animals especially due to close contact with an infected person.
Besides domestic pets, several zoos have also reported animals that have tested positive for the virus.
In April 2020 A four-year-old female Malayan tiger, Named Nadia, at the Bronx Zoo in New York is believed to be the first known case of an animal becoming infected and testing positive in the US. The Bronx Zoo said the test results were confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa.
Nadia and six other big cats are suspected to have been infected by a zookeeper who was asymptomatic. The cats began to show symptoms, including a dry cough, following exposure to the not yet identified employee.
Far more serious, though, has been Covid-19 infections among minks. These semi-aquatic mammals, commonly farmed for their fur, have been reported to be infected in multiple countries where in some cases, they have died or fallen severely ill.
In December of 2020, USDA (The US Department of Agriculture), said a wild mink had tested positive in a mink farm in Utah.
Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Italy and the US have so far reported Covid-19 outbreaks in mink farms. However, the largest Covid-19 mink outbreak happened in Denmark, leading to the culling of millions of minks and the complete shut down of their mink fur farming industry until 2022.
There is also some evidence that minks have passed back a mutated form of the coronavirus to humans. This is said to have happened after the animals became infected by farmworkers. The minks occasionally passed on the virus to humans, hence the heightened risk of the virus acquiring mutations.
Danish scientists are concerned that the genetic changes in a mink-related form of the virus can potentially make future coronavirus vaccines less effective.
There are varied opinions on this subject
Scientists don't seem to believe that cats and dogs, for example, play an important role in the transmission of the virus to their human companions. Some even question the need to vaccinate these pets at all.
"There's no need for a vaccine from a public health standpoint," William Karesh, a health expert for the non-profit EcoHealth Alliance, told Science Magazine last year.
The pet vaccine regulatory body in Europe, European Medicines Agency (EMA), and its partners in the European medicines regulatory network as well as the USA’s US Department of Agriculture (USDA), have taken a similar stance.
However, when it comes to other non-domestic animals, considering the susceptibility of minks to Covid-19, scientists agree that there is merit in developing a vaccine for them.
Also, because great apes, for example, are susceptible to catching respiratory diseases from humans, the threat to them has prompted concern. Gorillas in particular have populations listed as critically endangered and conservationists are worried about the danger of them contracting the virus.
Experts say that in the worst-case scenario, vulnerable animal populations such as gorillas could possibly be close to extinction.
There is also the risk of this mutated virus jumping back and forth between animals, rendering current vaccines being rolled out worldwide redundant.
"It is not unthinkable that vaccination of some domesticated animal species might be necessary to curb the spread of the infection,"
It is possible that mutations in animals could reinfect the human population with a substantially different virus that could potentially become a big problem in the future. Therefore, vaccines for animals might be the best way to avoid this outcome.
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