The news cycle throughout the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t always been kind, but the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination has been a welcome boost of positivity. As of Jan. 27, over 7 million people in the UK have had the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and with two types of vaccine being rolled out, and a third approved, the government's target of vaccinating 15 million of the country's most vulnerable people by Feb. 15 could still be in sight. But what about Fido and the rest of our furry friends? Coronavirus can infect a wide range of species including cats, dogs, and other domesticated species, so should you vaccinate your pet against COVID-19?
According to experts, it could be “necessary” in the future to vaccinate pets against COVID-19 to stop the spread of the virus. In an editorial for the medical journal Virulence, scientists from the University of East Anglia (UEA), as well as Norwich-based research facility the Earlham Institute and the University of Minnesota, have stated that continued evolution of the virus in animals followed by transmission to humans “poses a significant long-term risk to public health.”
While research so far suggests that symptoms in domesticated animals are mild at worst, and one of the editorial's authors, Cock van Oosterhout, a professor of evolutionary genetics at UEA, said there are no known cases of them carrying it on to humans, dogs and cats can still contract coronavirus, so it is “not unthinkable” that a vaccination for some domesticated animals might be necessary to curb the spread of the infection.
In the editorial, scientists wrote: “Continued virus evolution in reservoir animal hosts, followed by spillback events into susceptible human hosts, poses a significant long-term risk to public health.
“SARS-CoV-2 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.”
At the end of 2020, the Danish government made the decision to cull millions of mink after it emerged that the animals had passed on a COVID-19 mutations to humans, linking them to hundreds of cases in the country. Per Sky News, the mutation of the novel coronavirus was discovered at over 200 Danish mink farms in the north of the country, and at the time there were fears that the mutated variation would pose a “risk to the effectiveness” of a future COVID-19 vaccine. Although the Danish government estimated that the cull could cost up to five billion kroner (around £605 million), it went ahead as a way to minimise the risk of retransmitting the mutated virus to humans.
Editor-in-chief of Virulence, Professor Kevin Tyler was one of the authors of the editorial along with van Oosterhout, said that, while animals like cats are asymptomatic, they can be infected by COVID-19, and “they can infect humans with it.”
“The risk is that… it starts to pass, as it did in the mink, from animal to animal,” added Tyler, “and then starts to evolve animal-specific strains, but then they spill back into the human population and you end up essentially with a new virus which is related, which causes the whole thing all over again.”
Is there a COVID-19 vaccination for animals?
Although Russia announced in December 2020 that it was close to completing clinical trials on a new COVID-19 vaccine aimed at mink and domesticated animals such as cats, details of the vaccine were not made public.
There currently isn't a jab for animals that has been approved but it appears that, eventually, pets may need their own COVID-19 vaccination to prevent the coronavirus from evolving any further.
What about canine coronavirus?
It's important to note that the virus known as canine coronavirus is not the same as the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus that has caused the global pandemic in humans. Canine coronavirus is a long-established, highly contagious intestinal viral disease that causes diarrhoea in dogs worldwide. Pups can get a vaccine against canine coronavirus as part of their 8-week jabs, but it is not the same as the COVID-19 vaccine currently being rolled out.