Apes at the San Diego Zoo Got a COVID Vaccine

Photo: Dimas Ardian/Getty Images

Four orangutans and five bonobos at the San Diego Zoo received COVID-19 vaccines this month, making them the first nonhuman primates to be inoculated against the disease, National Geographic reports.

Before you cover yourself in orange fur and sneak into a zoo enclosure to try to snag a vaccine, know that this was an experimental vaccine for animals, developed by veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis.

The vaccine had only been tested on cats and dogs, but after a troop of eight gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested positive for COVID in January — becoming the first great apes in the world to test positive for the virus — zoo officials decided it was time to inoculate the other apes in their care.

“This isn’t the norm. In my career, I haven’t had access to an experimental vaccine this early in the process and haven’t had such an overwhelming desire to want to use one,” Nadine Lamberski, chief conservation and wildlife health officer at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, told National Geographic.

After the zoo secured doses from Zoetis, handlers distracted the nine primates with treats while they gave them their jabs. So far, the apes are doing well and have had no adverse reactions.

Among the vaccinated is Karen, an orangutan who first made veterinary history in 1994 when she became the first orangutan to have open-heart surgery. Karen’s blood, as well as that of an inoculated bonobo, is being tested to see whether they did, in fact, develop COVID antibodies.

Congrats to Karen and the other vaccinated apes. May we all join their ranks soon.

Apes at the San Diego Zoo Got COVID Vaccines