Why don't we have a Covid vaccine for pets?

In the past year, vaccines against the coronavirus have entered billions of human weapons – and in the hazy hips of an arch of zoo anim...


In the past year, vaccines against the coronavirus have entered billions of human weapons – and in the hazy hips of an arch of zoo animals. Jaguars receive the jab. bonobos are dosed. The same goes for orangutans and otters, ferrets and fruit bats, and, of course, lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!).

Largely left behind, however, are two creatures much closer to home: domestic cats and dogs.

Pet owners have noticed.

“I get so many questions about this problem,” said Dr. Elizabeth Lennon, veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania. “Will there be a vaccine? When will there be a vaccine?

Technically, a pet vaccine is feasible. Indeed, several research teams claim to have already developed promising vaccines for cats or dogs; the shots that zoo animals receive were originally designed to dogs.

But vaccinating pets is just not a priority, experts said. Although dogs and cats can catch the virus, a growing body of evidence suggests that Fluffy and Fido play little or no role in its spread – and rarely get sick on their own.

“A vaccine is pretty unlikely, I think, for dogs and cats,” said Dr. Will Sander, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “The risk of disease and illness spreading to pets is so low that no vaccine would be worth giving. “

In February 2020, a woman from Hong Kong was diagnosed with Covid-19. Two other people in his house quickly tested positive for the virus, as did an unexpected member of the household: one Aged Pomeranian. The 17-year-old dog was the first pet known to catch the virus.

But not the last. A German Shepherd in Hong Kong quickly tested positive, as did cats in Hong Kong, Belgium and new York. The cases were extremely mild – the animals had little or no symptoms – and experts concluded that humans have spread the virus to pets, rather than the other way around.

“To date, there have been no documented cases of dogs or cats transmitting the virus to humans,” said Dr Lennon.

But the prospect of a pet pandemic has sparked interest in an animal vaccine. Zoetis, a New Jersey-based veterinary pharmaceutical company, started working on one as soon as they heard about the Hong Kong Pomeranian.

“We were like, ‘Wow, this could get serious, so let’s start working on a product,” said Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president at Zoetis who leads vaccine development.

As of fall 2020, Zoetis had four promising vaccine candidates, each of which sparked “robust” antibody responses in cats and dogs, the company said. (The studies, which were small, have not been published.)

But as vaccine development progressed, it became increasingly clear that infection in pets was unlikely to pose a serious threat to animals or people.

In a study of 76 pets living with people infected with the virus, 17.6% of cats and 1.7% of dogs also tested positive. (Studies have consistently shown that cats are more sensitive to infection than dogs, possibly for both biological and behavioral reasons.) Of the infected animals, 82.4 percent had no symptoms.

When animals get sick, they tend to have mild symptoms, which can include lethargy, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, or diarrhea. Animals usually make a full recovery without treatment, although a handful of more serious cases do occasionally occur.

Additionally, there is no evidence that cats or dogs transmit the virus to humans – and there is little sign that they easily transmit it to each other. Stray cats, for example, are a lot less likely have antibodies virus than cats that live with humans, suggesting that animals largely catch the virus from us rather than each other.

“It doesn’t appear that cats or dogs are a reservoir for this virus,” said Dr. Jeanette O’Quin, a veterinarian at Ohio State University. “We believe that if there weren’t sick people around them, they couldn’t continue to spread it from animal to animal – it wouldn’t continue to exist in their population.”

Together, these factors convinced experts that a pet vaccine was not necessary. In November 2020, the US Department of Agriculture, which regulates veterinary drugs, said it was does not accept any application for vaccines for cats or dogs “because the data does not indicate that such a vaccine would be of value”.

But as the threat of pets faded, another problem arose: mink. The elegant and slender mammals, which are bred in large numbers, have turned out to be very susceptible to virus. And not only did they die, they spread it to each other and back to humans.

“I think the situation in mink absolutely warrants a vaccine,” said Dr Lennon.

The USDA thought so too, and in the same November notice in which the agency said it was not considering vaccines for cats or dogs, it declared itself open to requests for the mink vaccine. .

Zoetis pivoted, deciding to reuse one of his dog vaccines for mink. (Several other teams are also developing mink vaccines, and Russia has already approved a hit for all carnivores, including mink, and a would have started administer it to animals.)

Mink studies are ongoing, but when word of Zoetis’ work broke, zoos called. Some of their animals, including gorillas, tigers and snow leopards – had already caught the virus and they wanted to run the mink vaccine. “We have received a large number of requests,” said Dr Kumar.

Zoetis, who decided to provide vaccine to zoos on a trial basis, has now pledged to donate 26,000 doses – enough to vaccinate 13,000 animals – to zoos and animal sanctuaries in 14 countries.

This development means that many zoo cats, such as lions and tigers, get vaccinated, while their domestic cousins ​​are not. This is in part because these species appear to be more susceptible to the virus; some have died after being infected, although the cause of death is often difficult to determine conclusively.

“Big cats seem to get sicker than domestic cats,” Dr. Lennon said.

Additionally, zoo animals are exposed to many more people than the average domestic cat, and many are at high risk.

“I don’t want to diminish anyone’s pets,” Dr. Sander said. “I have a cat myself. But I think a lot of these animals have a high conservation status. They are genetically very valuable. And so they want to try to provide the best possible protection. “

Although evidence so far suggests that the virus does not pose a major threat to pets, there is still a lot to learn, scientists agree. It is still unclear how often infected humans transmit the virus to their pets, especially because authorities do not recommend routine testing for pets, and the virus may have effects on the health of pets that have not yet been identified.

In an article published earlier this month, scientists raised the possibility that the Alpha variant, which was first identified in Britain, can cause heart inflammation in dogs and cats. The evidence is circumstantial, but the virus has been linked to the same problem in humans and the link is worth exploring, experts said.

“We need to do more research in this area to find out if this is a real association,” said Dr O’Quin.

Some pets may be particularly exposed to the virus. Dr Lennon and his colleagues recently identified an immunocompromised dog who appeared to be getting seriously ill from the virus. Unlike most infected dogs, this one also shed high levels of the virus for over a week.

“Of course it is, but it really illustrates that Covid is not the same in all pets, just as it is not in everyone,” Dr Lennon said.

It’s certainly possible that future research – or changes in the virus – could change the math on a pet vaccine. If the virus turns out to be more prevalent, virulent or transmissible in dogs or cats than is currently known, that would make the case for a vaccine more compelling, scientists said. The USDA has said it may re-evaluate its position if “more evidence of transmission and clinical disease” emerges in a particular species.

If that moment arrives, Zoetis is ready to pick up where it left off with his pet vaccines, Dr Kumar said. He said if the company’s mink vaccine were licensed, vets might be able to use it off-label in the event of an unexpected outbreak in cats or dogs.

Applied DNA Sciences, a New York-based biotechnology company, also developed a promising cat vaccine “as a ‘just in case’,” said James Hayward, chief executive of the company. (Like Zoetis, the company, which works in partnership with Italian company Evvivax, is now focusing more on a mink vaccine.)

For now, there are steps pet owners can take to protect their pets. People who test positive for the virus should isolate themselves away from their pets, if possible, or wear a face mask while caring for them.

And, of course, a vaccine for humans is now widely available in the United States. “The best way to prevent SARS-CoV-2 in our pets is to prevent disease in humans,” said Dr. O’Quin. “So please get vaccinated.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Why don't we have a Covid vaccine for pets?
Why don't we have a Covid vaccine for pets?
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