Thursday 28 January 2021

Domestic cats and dogs may have to be vaccinated in the future against Covid-19 to protect people

This is a quick note but one worth making nonetheless. I think I can predict that in the long term, perhaps in about 18 months to 2 years time, governments in various countries, perhaps predominantly in the West, will be thinking about vaccinating companion animals as a second phase protective measure against Covid-19. 

This is because there is a concern among some scientists that animals may create a reservoir for mutant variants of the Covid-19 virus. As the virus is zoonotic it can theoretically and actually be transmitted from animals to people and this must apply also to companion animals.

Danish mink farmer with white mink due to be euthanised. Photo per credit

Perhaps because of the general panicked nature of governmental responses to the coronavirus pandemic, not enough work has been done on this aspect of the spread of the disease. In addition nobody wants to alarm anybody which may lead to companion animal abuse. In fact, in China, at the outset of the pandemic, there were indeed abuses of animals with some highly irresponsible owners throwing their cats out of high-rise windows. That was quite shocking but it does indicate what might happen when panic takes hold.

Experts at the University of East Anglia have suggested in the journal Virulence that the evolution of the virus in animals may pose a risk to the public in the long term. Everything I've read thus far about companion animals transmitting the disease to their owners has been very low-key. They say there is no evidence that it happens which is good to hear. But the truth of the matter is that not enough research has been done on this. Let's remind ourselves that the pandemic started by the virus being transmitted from an animal to a person.

There is no reason why companion animals can't transmit the disease to people in the home. The Prof of evolutionary genetics at the University of East Anglia said that dogs and cats can contract Covid-19 but there is no known cases of infection of humans by companion animal.

Despite the low key nature of this possibility, governments need to be alert to it and although it's too early now to be thinking about this, in the long term there will, I would suggest, be a need to address a vaccine for animals. 

It is known that domestic cats have caught the disease but they are largely asymptomatic or the symptoms are at a very low level. This, in fact, points to a need to research the difference between companion animals and people. The disease kills people. We are all painfully aware of that, but the symptoms are very low level in animals. Why is this? Research is required.

A classic example of how a mutation of the virus in animals can pose a threat to humans comes from Denmark. Denmark euthanised 17 million farmed mink last year after it emerged that hundreds of cases in humans were linked to a mutated variant in farmed mink of the Covid-19 virus. Denmark is the world's major exporter of mink pelts and is a major supplier to China. The Denmark mink culling cost, as I recall, about €2 billion in compensation to the farmers. Denmark should take the opportunity to close the mink farming business for good. It is highly abusive of animals.

The story indicates how fears can build up about animals forming a reservoir for the disease especially a mutated version of it.

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