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VIVIENNE PARRY: You’ll think I’m barking but we need to give Covid vaccines to animals too

The near-apocalyptic scenes and harrowing accounts coming out of India are heartbreaking. Desperate people, frantically trying to save the ones they love against impossible odds. Bodies, truly, piled high. Virtually no family untouched.

In Britain, with plummeting hospitalisations and infections and a vaccine programme close to delivering herd immunity, it might feel as if it’s all just about over.

But there is a mountain the whole world still has to climb before we get Covid under control.

If we are to beat this virus, we’re going to need to vaccinate not just humans, but animals, too

If we are to beat this virus, we’re going to need to vaccinate not just humans, but animals, too

If we are to beat this virus, we’re going to need to vaccinate not just humans, but animals, too

Virtually no family in India has not been touched by the near-apocalyptic scenes caused by Covid-19

Virtually no family in India has not been touched by the near-apocalyptic scenes caused by Covid-19

Virtually no family in India has not been touched by the near-apocalyptic scenes caused by Covid-19 

I state this to underscore the seriousness of what I’m about to say: if we are to beat this virus, we’re going to need to vaccinate not just humans, but animals, too.

You may think I have lost my marbles, particularly as many countries are still struggling to get regular vaccine programmes up and running for citizens never mind pets and farm animals, but hear me out…

We already know that domestic animals and livestock are susceptible to coronavirus. And it can be passed between human and animals, mutating as it does so – remember, it’s highly likely that Covid-19 jumped from bats, probably via some intermediate creature, to people.

Last month, the first two recorded cases of British human-to-cat transmission of Covid were revealed in a report from the Medical Research Council and Glasgow University’s Centre for Virus Research. But these are just the latest instances – the pandemic has been peppered with anecdotal cases of cats and dogs, and even a tiger at a New York zoo, testing positive for the virus. There was a ferret in Slovenia, too.

At present the American Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that the risk of animals spreading Covid to humans is ‘considered to be low’. Not a single transmission event has been recorded from a pet cat to human, for example. Luckily, cats’ famous aloofness, both with humans and other cats, is an advantage here. Dogs are much more sociable, but seem less affected by Covid. It’s also unlikely the virus will survive long on fur.

However, the CDC also admits: ‘We are still learning about this virus [and] we know that it can spread from people to animals in some situations, especially during close contact.

Danish PM Mette Frederiksen ordered the culling of all farmed mink in the country after the animals were infected with Covid-19

Danish PM Mette Frederiksen ordered the culling of all farmed mink in the country after the animals were infected with Covid-19

Danish PM Mette Frederiksen ordered the culling of all farmed mink in the country after the animals were infected with Covid-19

‘People with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 should avoid contact with animals, including pets, livestock and wildlife.’

In November, Danish and Dutch fur-makers were forced to cull more than 17 million mink that had contracted the virus.

To the horror of health officials, the animals had passed a worrying new variant of Covid back to their keepers. It wasn’t simply a sad moment for animal-lovers – Danish PM Mette Frederiksen shed tears after meeting farm workers who had seen their livelihoods go up in smoke. Mink farms in the US have also been hit.

There are, as far as we currently know, seven types of human coronavirus. Four of them cause about a third of our common colds. The three others – the ones that cause SARS, MERS and Covid – are rather nastier.

We know that other primates, such as apes and monkeys, are as susceptible to Covid as we are – for this reason they were used when developing the vaccines.

Last month, the first two recorded cases of British human-to-cat transmission of Covid were revealed in a report from the Medical Research Council and Glasgow University’s Centre for Virus Research

Last month, the first two recorded cases of British human-to-cat transmission of Covid were revealed in a report from the Medical Research Council and Glasgow University’s Centre for Virus Research

Last month, the first two recorded cases of British human-to-cat transmission of Covid were revealed in a report from the Medical Research Council and Glasgow University’s Centre for Virus Research

In November, endangered gorillas at San Diego Zoo in the US began coughing and subsequently tested positive for Covid. It is believed that an asymptomatic member of staff passed it on to them.

But if it spread in the wild, in these fragile populations it could be devastating.

Monkeys pose a different problem. For example, they frequent temple grounds in India, mingling with people. And they naturally don’t give, erm, a monkey’s about social distancing. There’s a potential for infection to emerge again right there.

And lots of animals have their own species-specific coronaviruses – hedgehog CoV HKU31 and giraffe Co-V, to name just two – which might be ready and willing to mix and match with ours if it is introduced to them.

We should always keep our distance from wild animals. But as for domestic pets and farmed animals, should we be vaccinating them?

Well, Russia is developing Carnivac-CoV, an animal vaccine claimed to be for cats. And my sources tell me the big animal vaccine companies are considering following suit.

But these will not be easy to develop. Cats already harbour their own unique type of coronavirus. Many carry it harmlessly, but it sometimes causes a lethal illness called feline infectious peritonitis.

There is a vaccine for this, but it’s not used much as it doesn’t work in cats that have already been exposed to this coronavirus – which, after 13 weeks, is most of them.

The development of this vaccine was fraught with problems, as early versions were found to bind to the virus in a way that made it even more deadly – a phenomenon known as antibody-dependent enhancement of infection.

Trials resulted in a lot of dead cats, unfortunately.

Scottish government adviser Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said the only true way out of the pandemic was a ‘pan-coronavirus vaccine’ – a jab to protect against numerous coronaviruses, not just the one that causes Covid

Scottish government adviser Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said the only true way out of the pandemic was a ‘pan-coronavirus vaccine’ – a jab to protect against numerous coronaviruses, not just the one that causes Covid

Scottish government adviser Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said the only true way out of the pandemic was a ‘pan-coronavirus vaccine’ – a jab to protect against numerous coronaviruses, not just the one that causes Covid

This is one reason I suspect the Carnivac-Cov vaccine is unlikely to be aimed at cats. Instead, farmed mink and fox will be likely targets, because they are valuable to Russia’s fur industry.

Last week, the Scottish government adviser Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said the only true way out of the pandemic was a ‘pan-coronavirus vaccine’ – a jab to protect against numerous coronaviruses, not just the one that causes Covid.

This, she stated, would prevent future pandemics that could occur when animal coronaviruses make the leap into humans, as they’re likely to do again.

Such a vaccine is, in fact, in development. But I’d say going one stage further would be prudent.

Covid is out there. It’s impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. But once we vaccinate all adults, children and even babies, the virus will have fewer places to hide. Vaccinating animals, as wacky as it might first sound, will be another way to reduce viral ‘reservoirs’.

And, yes, that may well include those temple monkeys.

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