According to a group of scientists, it may be necessary in the future to vaccinate pets such as cats and dogs against Covid-19 in order to curb the spread of the virus.
Coronavirus can infect a wide variety of species, including cats, dogs, mink, and other domesticated species, according to experts at the University of East Anglia (UEA), a Norwich-based research facility at the Earlham Institute and the University of Minnesota.
In an editorial for Virulence magazine, they wrote that the continued development of the virus in animals, followed by transmission to humans, “poses a significant long-term risk to public health.”
“It’s not unthinkable that vaccination of some domesticated animal species … might be necessary to contain the spread of the infection,” they said.
Last year, the Danish government killed millions of mink after it was found that hundreds of Covid-19 cases in the country were linked to mink farming-related variants of coronavirus.
One of the authors of the editorial, Cock van Oosterhout, professor of evolutionary genetics at UEA, said that dogs and cats can become infected with coronavirus, but there are no known cases of relapse to humans.
“It makes sense to develop pet and pet vaccines to reduce this risk,” he said.
“What we have to be as a human society, we really have to be prepared for all eventualities when it comes to Covid.
“I think the best way to do this is indeed to consider developing vaccines for animals.
“Interestingly, the Russians have already started developing a vaccine for pets that very little information is available about.”
Kevin Tyler, editor-in-chief of Virulence, said, “Cats are asymptomatic, but they are infected with it and can infect humans with it.
“The risk is that as long as these reservoirs are around it will start to go from animal to animal like in the mink and then start to develop animal-specific strains, but then they get back into the human population and you essentially have a new virus that is related and causing it all over again. “
He said while minks were being killed in Denmark “if you think of pets, pets, then you might think about vaccinating to prevent it”.
He added, “It’s not an obvious risk yet.”
Prof. van Oosterhout and Prof. Tyler wrote the editorial with the Director of the Earlham Institute Neil Hall and Hinh Ly from the University of Minnesota.
In their editorial, the scientists wrote: “Continued virus development in reservoir animal hosts, followed by spillback events into susceptible human hosts, poses a significant long-term public health risk.
“SARS-CoV-2 can infect a wide variety of host species, including cats, dogs, mink, and other wild and domesticated species. Therefore, vaccination of domesticated animals may be necessary to stop further virus development and spillback events.
“As SARS-CoV-2 / Covid-19 vaccination campaigns roll out globally, new virus variants that have the potential to penetrate the human population are likely to continue to emerge.”
They said that more communicable strains of the virus like the UK variant will require more people to be vaccinated to keep the coronavirus under control.
“The vaccination against such a high virus pathogen worldwide is unprecedented and we have therefore found ourselves in uncharted waters,” they wrote.
Scientists have urged governments to view continued use of strict control measures such as masks and social distancing as the only way to reduce the development and spread of new variants of Covid-19.