Companies are working to develop coronavirus vaccines for various animals likeapes and mink. Mahesh Kumar, the senior vice president of global biologics atZoetis, joined CBSN to talk about the importance of vaccinating animals andhow it can help prevent humans from getting sick.

Video Transcript

– Great apes at the San Diego Zoo became the first non-humans to be vaccinatedagainst COVID-19 earlier this month. Now companies are working to developshots for more animals that have been proven to carry and spread thecoronavirus. The idea, prevent animals from getting COVID before they can passit on to people.

Health officials are also worried about mink. Several mink farmers in theNetherlands tested positive for a mutated coronavirus strain last May. Thatstrain was first found in the animals. The outbreak led health officials toshut down farms and put down thousands of mink to prevent further spread.

Mahesh Kumar is the Senior Vice President of Global Biologics at Zoetis, whichdeveloped the vaccine used on the great apes at the San Diego Zoo. Thank youfor joining us. How did your company develop the vaccine for the apes? And howis it different from the vaccines that we humans get?

MAHESH KUMAR: So the first instance of COVID in dogs were in Hong Kong lastFebruary. And as soon as we heard that, Zoetis started working on a vaccinefor cats and dogs. So the vaccine itself is very similar, in that the virus isthe same that affects humans as well as all animals, right?

So what we did was we took a piece of the virus, the spike protein, and weused that, that’s the same as in human vaccines. We then used a specificcarrier or an adjuvant to combine with the virus part so that we have avaccine for animals. So we started working on cats and dogs initially, butthen we quickly pivoted to other species.

– You talked a little bit about cats and dogs. What other animals are youworking to create vaccines for? And why those specific animals?

MAHESH KUMAR: So while we were working for cats and dogs, we recognized thatit hasn’t really spread into the companion animals. And the government– we aregoverned by a US Department of Agriculture, who also don’t feel like it’simportant yet for cats and dogs.

So while we were waiting on the program, we recognized that the disease wasprogressing rapidly in mink. And so the government also, the US government,USDA, decided that they will allow the license for a mink vaccine.

So we pivoted to a mink vaccine and we started working for the mink. And whilewe were working on the mink vaccine is when we heard about the primates in SanDiego who got infected. And they reached out to us to see if we would be ableto give them some vaccine and we sure did.

– Mahesh, if animals aren’t vaccinated against coronavirus, how does that puthumans at risk of infection, if at all?

MAHESH KUMAR: Well, Zoetis is a company primarily that focuses on animalhealth. So we are concerned about the welfare and being– welfare and health ofall animals. So for us, that’s the primary goal. However, animals areresponsible for close to 70% of emerging infectious diseases. So it’s veryimportant for us to stop the disease if it can ever happen in animals, there’sno spill over into humans.

So what we’ve done is, basically, we’ve had vaccines that we’ve developed foranimals to prevent– prevent any further spill over into humans. As you know,in the mink in Denmark, they did mutate and cause a different virus andreinfected humans. So it’s very important for us to really stop it at thatstage.

– Do you worry about other diseases spreading between humans and animals,especially as human populations encroach on wild areas?

MAHESH KUMAR: Sure, I mean, I think it’s very common. It’s why we have a[INAUDIBLE] where we’re trying to work with that animal human interface tomake sure that we are able to look at these kinds of areas and see what we cando to prevent these diseases.

As you know, as we are encroaching on the territories where wild animals live,we will get more and more of these transboundary diseases between humans andanimals and animals and humans. We already have several of that in thatmanner. But we certainly want to make sure we are watching that and that weare ready to deal with it when it happens.

– So many of us have pets and we love them. Should we be worried that our petsare going to get us sick and vise versa?

MAHESH KUMAR: Well, I mean, if you’re talking specifically about COVID, Ithink at the moment, we don’t feel that the pets are a significant concern.However, as you know, we started working and cases did happen, I just want tomake sure that people know that if there ever became a situation that becomesserious for pets, Zoetis will be ready for a vaccine or with a vaccine.

– What does a vaccine roll out for animals look like?

MAHESH KUMAR: Well, essentially, it’ll be very similar to how we would do inhumans. So we have vaccines. We go through the same preparations anddevelopment pathways in animals. We then have to go through regulatorygovernance, which is USDA for us in animal health. And they will allow aproduct to be sent in and– I mean, a product to be used for animals.

And then rollout will be similar to a launch in any human vaccine that ourcompanies would then provide through our network to places that might need it.And essentially, that’s how we would do it. The vaccine itself is administeredsimilar to humans. It can be given intramuscularly or subcutaneously. Andthat’s how it’s also provided for humans.

– So interesting. Mahesh Kumar, thank you.

MAHESH KUMAR: Thank you very much.


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