COVID-19 vaccine created in Kalamazoo to be used at local zoos

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan zoos are preparing to vaccinate some animals with a COVID-19 vaccine developed in Kalamazoo.

The vaccine is being donated by animal health company Zoetis Inc. to Binder Park Zoo near Battle Creek and John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, along with 68 other zoos across the country. All told, zoos will be receiving 11,000 doses.

Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president of global biologics for Zoetis, oversees the team that developed the vaccine.

“When we heard about a couple dogs in Hong Kong that got COVID we started working towards a vaccine,” Kumar said.

The company has found a need in other animals and is providing the doses to the zoos under an experimental vaccine permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It became clear that the disease was not significant in cats and dogs and also the U.S. Department of Agriculture was not willing to consider a license application for companion animals because they didn’t feel it important,” Kumar said.

Protecting the animals at Binder Park Zoo is top priority for staff veterinarian Dr. Kim Thompson. While the zoo has not had any cases of COVID-19 among its animals, the virus has been found in some zoos elsewhere in the world.

“It’s two doses,” Thompson said. “We will receive one dose and then in another few weeks, we will follow up with their second dose.”

Binder Park Zoo is planning to first vaccinate its population of lions.

“We’re mainly focusing on our large cats, things like lions and snow leopards, as well as our primates here — so those animals that we know could potentially get COVID-19,” Thompson said.

The zoo is awaiting approval from state regulators and has not yet received a shipment of the vaccine.

“This will also give us one more safety and one more peace of mind having those animals vaccinated, as well as the additional steps that we’ve been taking here,” Thompson said.

Kumar said the vaccine will help improve protections against the virus around the world.

“When you think about a virus that can cross over between human and animals, our duty is not only protect ourselves but also to protect us from giving it to the animals and vice-versa,” Kumar said.

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