Zoetis Donates COVID-19 Vaccines to Help Support the Health of Zoo Animals

Oakland Zoo
July 2, 2021
Archie the Ferret - Animal Room Education Ambassador at Oakland Zoo - receives COVID vaccination while enjoying a treat

Statement from PETA Foundation Captive Wildlife Veterinarian - Dr. Monica Bando

"These vaccines have been clinically tested and administered to animals only after deep consideration by veterinary professionals. Since growing numbers of big cats, apes, and otters in zoos are contracting SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—from asymptomatic humans, the evidence clearly indicates that the benefits of vaccination in susceptible species far outweigh the dire risks of infection for unvaccinated animals. PETA supports Oakland Zoo’s decision to try to protect the health and welfare of the animals in its care".

Statement Issued July 8:

Thank you for the concern some individuals have shown regarding the health and safety of our animals receiving the COVID-19 vaccine for animals developed by Zoetis. It’s important to realize that all COVID-19 vaccines are categorized as “experimental” because the virus emerged less than two years ago, so no long-term studies are possible. Development studies by Zoetis demonstrated the vaccines to be safe and have a reasonable expectation of efficacy in mounting an immune response in animals; there were no adverse reactions when the vaccine was administered to cats and dogs.

Zoetis presented these results in a poster at the World One Health Congress in the fall of 2020 (poster link below). We know that non-domestic animals, especially carnivores, do become sick and can die, from COVID-19. We’ve been in close contact with Zoetis, the AZA, and the veterinary community throughout this endeavor, and we have evaluated the safety information and have determined that the benefit of protecting the higher risk, susceptible species with the Zoetis vaccine outweighs the possible risk of adverse vaccine reactions. If there had been or will be any adverse reactions, we have preventative measures and protocols in place to counteract them.

If you know Oakland Zoo, you know that nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our animals, and the decision to vaccinate them against COVID-19 and the Delta variant, along with the demonstrated safety of the vaccine itself,  is based on that. We do not experiment on our animals.

It has now been 7 days since our first animals were vaccinated, and as we expected, and they all are doing great with no adverse reactions to the vaccine. We have been evaluating the scientific literature on animal susceptibility throughout the pandemic, and with increasing numbers of cases in non-domestic carnivores, especially recent and more severe cases from the Delta variant, we are eager to protect our animals. They are and always will be our first priority.


PARSIPPANY, N.J.– July 2, 2021 – Zoetis is donating more than 11,000 doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine to help protect the health and well-being of more than 100 mammalian species living in nearly 70 zoos, as well as more than a dozen conservatories, sanctuaries, academic institutions and government organizations located in 27 states. The vaccine has been authorized for experimental use on a case by case basis by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the appropriate state veterinarians. The vaccines deployment to dozens of zoos follows Zoetis’ response in January to a request from the San Diego Zoo following confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the gorillas at the San Diego Safari Park.


Receiving their first shipment of vaccines on June 29, Oakland Zoo in Northern California quickly assembled their veterinary and animal care teams to begin vaccinations of their highest at risk animals the following morning. Tigers, Black bears, Grizzly bears, Mountain lions and ferrets were the first to receive their first of two doses. Next are primates, including Chimpanzees, and Fruit bats. “Up until now, we have been using public barriers at certain habitats to ensure social distancing, along with enhanced PPE worn by staff to protect our susceptible species from COVID-19. We’re happy and relieved to now be able to better protect our animals with this vaccine, and are very thankful to Zoetis for not only creating it, but for donating it to us and dozens of other AZA-accredited zoos across the U.S.,” said Dr. Alex Herman,VP of Veterinary Services at Oakland Zoo.

“Zoetis has a long history of supporting zoo veterinarians and the animals in their care,” said Dr. Mike McFarland, Chief Medical Officer at Zoetis. “We are proud that our innovative research and development work and vaccine donations can help veterinary professionals within the zoo community continue to provide a high standard of care to the primates, big cats, and many other species they care for and reduce the risk of COVID-19.”  

Through protective contact, tigers are trained to voluntarily present themselves for minor medical procedures, including vaccinations

COVID-19 vaccine designed for animals

Zoetis’ research and development team, headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan, applied decades of experience developing other coronavirus vaccines for cats, dogs, poultry and cattle. Zoetis’ COVID-19 vaccine is uniquely formulated for animal species. Although the virus – or antigen – is the same as in human vaccines, vaccines for animals vary based on the carrier – or adjuvant – that is used. The unique combination of antigen and carrier ensures safety and efficacy for the species in which a vaccine is used. To further support veterinarians’, Zoetis also developed and validated feline and canine-specific real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) diagnostic tests to detect SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).

“When the first dog was infected with COVID-19 in Hong Kong last year, we immediately began to work on a vaccine that could be used in domestic animals, and in eight months we completed our initial safety studies, which we presented at the World One Health Congress last year. While thankfully a COVID-19 vaccine is not needed in pets or livestock at this time, we are proud that our work can help zoo animals at risk of COVID-19,” said Mahesh Kumar, Senior Vice President, Global Biologics at Zoetis. “More than ever before, the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the important connection between animal health and human health, and we continue to monitor for emerging infectious diseases that can impact animals as well as people.”

Combating Emerging Infectious Diseases

Based on the belief that healthier animals help create a healthier world, Zoetis is committed to using its innovation expertise in animal health to help solve sustainability challenges facing animals and people. One of the company’s goals within its Driven to Care long-term sustainability initiative is to combat diseases that pose the greatest risk to animals and humans. Through its Center for Transboundary and Emerging Diseases (CTED), Zoetis has developed vaccines for high-impact emerging diseases around the world including Avian Influenza, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, Schmallenberg Virus, Hendra Virus, and Canine Influenza. The Center continues to work on vaccines for Foot and Mouth Disease and African Swine Fever.

Through the CTED, Zoetis is watching approximately 200 diseases identified by the WHO as zoonotic, including Avian Influenza, Rabies, Lyme disease, West Nile Virus, and SARS-CoV-2. According to the World Health Organization, at least 75% of emerging infectious diseases have an animal origin, including COVID-19. Now more than ever before, we can all see the important connection between animal health and human health.

About Zoetis

As the world’s leading animal health company, Zoetis is driven by a singular purpose: to nurture our world and humankind by advancing care for animals. After nearly 70 years innovating ways to predict, prevent, detect, and treat animal illness, Zoetis continues to stand by those raising and caring for animals worldwide - from livestock farmers to veterinarians and pet owners. The company’s leading portfolio and pipeline of medicines, vaccines, diagnostics, and technologies make a difference in over 100 countries. In 2020, Zoetis generated revenue of $6.7 billion with ~11,300 employees. For more information, visit www.zoetis.com.

Forward-Looking Statements: This press release contains forward-looking statements, which reflect the current views of Zoetis with respect to: our experimental COVID-19 vaccine designed for animals, the Center for Transboundary and Emerging Diseases, our sustainability commitments, goals and aspirations, and other future events. These statements are not guarantees of future performance or actions. Forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties. If one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or if management's underlying assumptions prove to be incorrect, actual results may differ materially from those contemplated by a forward-looking statement. Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which they are made. Zoetis expressly disclaims any obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. A further list and description of risks, uncertainties and other matters can be found in our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020, including in the sections thereof captioned “Forward-Looking Statements and Factors That May Affect Future Results” and “Item 1A. Risk Factors,” in our Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q and in our Current Reports on Form 8-K. These filings and subsequent filings are available online at www.sec.gov, www.zoetis.com, or on request from Zoetis.

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Oakland Zoo, home to more than 850 native and exotic animals, is managed by the Conservation Society of California (CSC); a non-profit organization leading an informed and inspired community to take action for wildlife locally and globally. With over 25 conservation partners and projects worldwide, the CSC is committed to conservation-based education and saving species and their habitats in the wild. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to the humane treatment of animals and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards for animal welfare for zoos and aquariums.