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VERIFY: COVID-19 vaccines for zoo animals have no impact on human shot distribution

Vaccines for animals are developed differently and by different companies than human vaccines. So no animal is getting a vaccine that could have gone to people.
Credit: AP
In this photo provided by the Audubon Nature Institute, a Sumatran orangutan named Reese, holds her baby after giving birth Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. It is the second Sumatran orangutan born in two years at the zoo. Veterinarians haven’t yet been able to weigh, measure and determine the sex of the baby born early Sunday to 12-year-old Reese, Audubon Zoo spokeswoman Annie Kinler Matherne said Monday, March 1. (Jonathan Vogel/Audubon Nature Institute via AP)

Primates from the San Diego Zoo recently got vaccinated for COVID-19, igniting social media claims mistaking the human coronavirus vaccine with the one animals received. 

But that vaccine, in reality, has no bearing on the one humans get.

THE QUESTION

Are animals getting the COVID-19 vaccine before people? Is it the same vaccine?

WHY WE ARE VERIFYING

Since a population of apes got an experimental COVID-19 vaccine in the San Diego Zoo, people on social media have claimed animals have “skipped the line” and were vaccinated before humans, which is not the case.

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THE ANSWER 

The San Diego Zoo apes got a vaccine specifically developed for animals — meaning it’s not suitable for humans — and was approved by a different health authority, the U.S. Department of Agriculture

WHAT WE FOUND

A representative from the USDA — the authority that approves veterinary products and medicine — said this vaccine was authorized for use as “an unlicensed, experimental vaccine, which got approval after meeting our safety requirements”. 

“It is important to note that this is not a human vaccine,” they said in an email. 

The vaccine was manufactured by Zoetis, a company that specializes in medicine and vaccinations for animals. Bill Price, the vice president of communications for the company, explained that while the antigens used for their vaccine are similar, the carriers differ by species. “This is not a vaccine that’s applicable to human health, so it’s not competing with human vaccination protocols,” he said. 

Story continues below this video. Check out previous stories on the VERIFY YouTube channel.

Price also clarified that the animal COVID-19 vaccine has been in development since the virus was found in dogs last year in Hong Kong, and during that research they were approached by the San Diego Zoo to help with the primates. 

“We do testing to make sure their safety and efficacy to be used in animals, but it's not a vaccine that would be transferable to other species, such as humans,” he said. 

When it comes to pets, Price said not to worry just yet, as there’s no requests from the USDA or FDA for a vaccine specifically for pet species. “Fortunately, for pet owners, there's not a panic or a need for that now. But we stand ready and able to help if that need arises.”

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