Could your pets be next in line for a Covid-19 vaccine?

To prevent the coronavirus from mutating in animals and spilling over into humans, the SA veterinary profession is looking into the possibility

19 February 2021 - 13:39
Dogs are not an important host for Covid-19 but there is some concern about domestic cats and wild felines, says Dr Leon de Bruyn, president of the SA Veterinary Association. Stock photo.
Dogs are not an important host for Covid-19 but there is some concern about domestic cats and wild felines, says Dr Leon de Bruyn, president of the SA Veterinary Association. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Marc Bosch Bernal

Vaccines are all the talk these days, but it’s not just human safety causing concern for many people because your furry animal companions could join the vaccination queue.

In an editorial published in the journal Virulence last month, the authors wrote that the vaccination of domesticated animals might be necessary to curb the evolution of Covid-19 and avoid a spillback to humans.

“Continued virus evolution in reservoir animal hosts, followed by spillback events into susceptible human hosts, poses a significant long-term risk to public health,” the editorial reads.

“SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes Covid-19] can infect a wide range of host species, including cats, dogs, mink and other wild and domesticated species, and hence the vaccination of domesticated animals might be required to halt further virus evolution and spillback events.”

After restrictions on visiting parks were lifted last year, TimesLIVE spoke to Dr Leon de Bruyn, president of the SA Veterinary Association, who assuaged people’s fears around walking their dogs, explaining there had been no proven cases of humans contracting Covid-19 from their pet dogs.

Given that we continue to learn more about Covid-19 and that research is ongoing, TimesLIVE reached out to De Bruyn again. He confirmed the veterinary profession is closely monitoring the Covid-19 situation in animals.

“Dogs are not an important host, but as mentioned before, there is some concern about domestic cats and wild felines,” De Bruyn said.

He’s also recently been made aware of instances in which Covid-19 had been transmitted from mink to humans at fur farms, mainly in Europe. 

Last year Denmark culled 17 million mink following an outbreak at mink farms over fears they might infect humans.

“There are concerns of the risk of virus spillover from fur farms to human populations as well as free living wildlife, again particularly in Europe,” De Bruyn said.

Recommendations to avoid this include personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers, monitoring the virus in infected animals and workers and strict bio-security. No mention has been made yet about vaccinating the mink.

Something that is being studied at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute in Pretoria is the possibility that pigs are important in amplifying the virus.

In the future it may well be beneficial to vaccinate animals for Covid-19 to stem replication, transmission and mutation. However, the priority now is surely to ensure vaccination of as many humans as possible.
Dr Leon de Bruyn

“The more this single-stranded RNA virus is transmitted, as well as replicating in different species, the more chance there is of it mutating into more virulent new strains,” said De Bruyn.

“We already vaccinate dogs, cattle and chickens for different coronaviruses. In the future it may well be beneficial to vaccinate animals for Covid-19 to stem replication, transmission and mutation. However, the priority now is surely to ensure vaccination of as many humans as possible with a safe, effective vaccine.”

The SA veterinary profession is already considering the vaccination of animals as a possibility and is looking into equipping the vaccine factory at Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP), the state-owned animal vaccine manufacturing company, for Covid-19 vaccine manufacture.

“As part of the research and development of human Covid-19 vaccines, OBP may first conduct trials of coronavirus vaccines on animals. This could pave the way for vaccinating animals for the above-mentioned viral containment purposes, as well as the primary motive of assisting with the manufacture of safe and effective human vaccines,” De Bruyn said.


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