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John Ball Zoo to vaccinate animals later this summer

The vaccines are specific to animals, manufactured by a Kalamazoo company called Zoetis. The company is donating the vaccines to zoos across the country.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — The John Ball Zoo is planning to vaccinate many of its animals later this summer against COVID-19. 

Primates and large tigers have had reported cases of the virus at zoos across the country since the pandemic began. 

John Ball Zoo has done special protocols to reduce the spread of the virus to the animals. Staff wear masks and keep their distance during feedings and training.

"But in order to really work with these animals, and provide them with the best care possible, we can’t be distanced all the time," said Ryan Colburn, the zoo's veterinarian. "We need to train them, work with them."

Now, a company out of Kalamazoo, called Zoetis, is donating animal-specific COVID-19 vaccines to zoos across the country. Colburn said John Ball Zoo is expecting about 150 doses of the vaccine sometime in August. 

RELATED: Gorilla Troop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tests positive for COVID-19

The zoo has been compiling a list of which animals will be vaccinated first. They will begin administering the doses later this summer and gradually into fall. 

"It’s a wonderful thing," said Colburn. "The needs for a vaccine is universal across these groups, but we obviously need to focus in now, for us, on the animal side."

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Chimpanzees and other large primates will be among the first vaccinated.

Earlier in January, Colburn said they did not have plans to vaccinate animals until humans had more access to the vaccine. 

"So, not tapping into the same resources for the really important work of keeping humans vaccinated," said Coburn of the Zoetis animal vaccine. 

Colburn said the vaccine will make a "big difference" in terms of how staff at the zoo operates. 

Animals set to receive the vaccine first include primates and large cats. 

RELATED VIDEO: John Ball Zoo veterinarian works to keep animals safe from COVID-19

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