ZooTampa plans to give some animals special COVID-19 vaccine

Hillsborough County

TAMPA (WFLA) – Over the past year during the pandemic, ZooTampa at Lowry Park has taken steps to protect the animals in its care from the coronavirus.

“Went around with my tape measure, made sure that the barriers were six feet at least and caregivers that were coming within six feet of any mammal were wearing a K-N95 mask,” said Dr. Cynthia Stringfield, senior vice president of animal health, education and conservation.

Now, ZooTampa is preparing to administer a specialized COVID-19 vaccine to some of its animals beginning in late summer or early fall.

While none of the animals at ZooTampa have contracted the virus, Dr. Stringfield said great apes and big cats across the country have become infected.

“We’re not worried about birds or reptiles, mammals only,” she said.

The infected animals have developed similar symptoms as humans.

“Respiratory symptoms, not feeling well, diarrhea, not wanting to eat,” Dr. Stringfield said.

Veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis developed its vaccine specifically for minks, because they have been hard hit by the virus, Dr. Stringfield said. It should be effective in many mammals.

The company has agreed to donate doses to ZooTampa.

It is in experimental vaccine that is under review by the USDA, but Dr. Stringfield said she is very confident it is safe.  

“Our goal is to protect our animals’ health and there are some animals that are susceptible to COVID that are really endangered species and the ones we have at the zoo are irreplaceable,” she said.

Right now, the zoo is figuring out which inviduals animals will receive the two-dose vaccine.

“We do what’s called a risk benefit assessment,” Dr. Stringfield said. “Is this worth doing? It’s not like you can have them walk up drive in their car and give the shoulder, although some animals are trained.”

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