Cats and dogs, as well as other household pets, may be a concern in the future as scientists look at controlling the spread of COVID-19
Scientists have said that it could be “necessary” in the future to vaccinate household pets against COVID-19 in order to stop the spread of the virus.
The novel coronavirus can infect a large range of species including cats, dogs and mink, as well as other domesticated species, researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA), the Norwich-based research facility the Earlham Institute and the University of Minnesota have said.
In an editorial written for the journal Virulence, they wrote that the continuing evolution of COVID-19 in animals followed by the transmission to humans “poses a significant long-term risk to public health”.
This comes after people who have already been vaccinated for COVID-19 could still transmit the coronavirus on to other people and should continue following the lockdown restrictions, England’s deputy chief medical officer has stressed.
“It is not unthinkable that vaccination of some domesticated animal species might be necessary to curb the spread of the infection,” they said.
Cock van Oosterhout, one of the editorial’s authors, and a professor of evolutionary genetics at UEA, said that dogs and cats can contract coronavirus but there are no known cases of them carrying it on to humans.
He said: “It makes sense to develop vaccines for pets, for domestic animals, just as a precaution to reduce this risk.
“What we need to be as a human society, we really need to be prepared for any eventuality when it comes to COVID. I think the best way to do this is indeed consider the development of vaccines for animals as well.”
He added Russia had “already started to develop a vaccine for pets” even though there is “very little information about”.
This comes after around two-thirds residents of elderly care homes have had a COVID-19 vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told MPs. The government has set a deadline of the 15th of February for offering the first dose of a vaccine to 15 million of the most vulnerable people.
Editor-in-chief of Virulence, Kevin Tyler, said: “The risk is that… it starts to pass as it did in the mink from animal to animal 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.”
He said that while mink were culled in Denmark, “if you were thinking about domestic animals, companion animals, then you might think about whether you could vaccinate to stop that from happening”.
He added: “It’s not an obvious risk yet.”