Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium will wait a bit longer before joining a handful of zoos across the country in vaccinating their animals against COVID-19.
Last week, the Oakland Zoo administered the vaccine to two tigers. The San Diego Zoo started inoculating primates in January after a COVID-19 breakout among a troop of gorillas. At the Cincinnati Zoo, great apes and big cats are being trained to receive the vaccine later this summer.
The veterinary vaccine, which is formulated primarily for mammals, is provided by New Jersey-based Zoetis. The company is the world’s largest producer of medicine and vaccinations for pets and livestock and was formerly a subsidiary of Pfizer.
Zoetis is donating more than 11,000 doses for animals living in almost 70 zoos, according to a press release from the company.
But Omaha’s zoo hasn’t yet requested vaccines from Zoetis, zoo officials said Thursday.
The decision to forgo vaccinations for the time being was based on the currently low COVID-19 infection rate and high vaccination rate in Omaha’s human population, the zoo said.
In Douglas County, 50.9% of all residents were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to the Douglas County Health Department. But statewide, Nebraska ended June with two consecutive weeks of increasing COVID-19 cases.
The zoo said a majority of its animal care staff are vaccinated.
The zoo also said its decision was based on the unknown efficacy of the vaccine in species other than those tested by Zoetis.
Masks are still required at the Omaha zoo for staff members who come within 6 feet of high-risk species, including all primates, tigers, lions, cheetahs and otters.
Zoo officials are in close contact with colleagues in higher-risk areas of the country who are vaccinating their animals, said Sarah Woodhouse, director of animal health at the Omaha zoo.
“We are continuously gathering information from them regarding their experience with the vaccine,” she said. “We will continue to assess the risk to our animals on a daily basis and evaluate new information as it becomes available. We are always committed to making the best possible decisions for the animals in our care.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
Photos: Elephants at the Omaha zoo