Animals at Wisconsin zoos to receive COVID-19 vaccine

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Some animals at the zoos in Madison and Milwaukee will receive an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.

Animals susceptible to the respiratory disease are expected to be inoculated with the vaccine authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture by late July.

No COVID-19 infections have been found in animals at the Milwaukee County Zoo or the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, but some of the big cats at the Bronx Zoo became sick when the pandemic was peaking in New York City.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is likely the animals became sick after being exposed to a caretaker with COVID-19.

"We have North America's largest collection of bonobos that are extremely endangered and extremely susceptible to respiratory infections," senior staff veterinarian for the Milwaukee County Zoo, Dr. Pamela Govett, said.

Apes like the bonobos, along with big cats and otters, are most at risk from the virus. The Milwaukee County Zoo should get its supply by the end of July. 

"The logistics are going to be a little tough," Dr. Govett said. "Because like the Pfizer vaccine, once you open the vial, it's good for 24 hours. So we will need to strategically plan to, you know, vaccinate a few here, a few there."

The zoo will monitor the animals for side effects once they are vaccinated. So far, the bonobos that Dr. Govett mentioned have not contracted COVID-19 yet. Typically the virus produces mild symptoms in animals, but a zoo in India did lose a female lion to the infection. 

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