Express press service

KOCHI: Although there have been reports of Covid infection in animals, including dogs and cats, the state has not yet conducted extensive research or study on the transmission of the virus from animals to humans or whether animals can be silent carriers of the disease.

Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture unveiled India’s first Covid vaccine for animals – Ancovax – which can neutralize Delta and Omicron variants of Covid in dogs, lions, leopards, mice and rabbits. According to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the vaccine can protect animals in zoos. The purpose of the vaccine is to protect endangered animals like lions and tigers. About nine cases of Covid infections were reported in Asiatic lions at Chennai Zoo last year. Apart from sending a few samples of suspected animals to the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases in Bhopal, the Animal Husbandry Department could not conduct any solid study or research in this regard.

Veterinary experts say it is high time Kerala prioritized research and animal studies and monitored the potential of felines and canines to harbor and transmit the virus. “It would be beneficial if vaccination of animals were undertaken simultaneously as it is the only option we can rely on in the current scenario. The state veterinary sector should conduct studies and research in this area.

It is high time that we gave sufficient priority to this research and study of Covid in animals because the virus evolves and mutates rapidly. We need to identify the species of animals that can harbor the virus and study its potential for transmission to humans,” said K Vijayakumar, Dean of Pookode College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences. He said studies show that vaccination has helped prevent around 68% of deaths in humans. Similarly, vaccines can protect animals although no cases of animal deaths due to Covid have been reported.

“Disease in animals can be prevented by vaccinating them. There is always a question of priority and our whole system has fought the pandemic relentlessly and now the firefighting mode is over
and we can start focusing on all of these scopes,” added K Vijayakumar.

“No study or research by government agencies”
A senior animal husbandry department official said he had not initiated any studies or research on the matter. “We sent several samples to the institute in Bhopal for testing, but all reports were negative. We have not received any directives or guidelines from the Center on the vaccination of animals. We will take necessary action when the Center issues guidelines on animal vaccinations,” the official said. “If any private parties or individuals are interested in researching the topic, we will certainly support them,” the official added.

Many veterinarians believe that pet owners are less concerned about vaccinations as the pandemic situation has become normal in the state. “Previously, when Covid cases were high, there were many inquiries about the availability of vaccines for pets. But people are less bothered because there are fewer cases now. We doubt the marketability of the vaccine and there have been no reported cases in the state to date where the virus has been transmitted from animals to humans. Additionally, the data available on study and research in this area is minimal. If the vaccine is effective in neutralizing Covid variants, it should definitely be given to animals,” said K Sooraj from Cochin Pet Hospital.

Use CSR funds for research, says animal rights activist
Animal rights activist and former member of the Kerala State Animal Welfare Board, MN Jayachandran has said the government should use CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds for Covid-related research. “This clause has already been included in the guidelines for the use of CSR funds. There is no dearth of funds for such research activities if CSR funds are utilized,” Jayachandran said.

He said that in addition to research and studies, the government should educate the public on the importance of protecting the natural ecosystem from wild animals. “Such awareness is key to preventing the transmission of viruses from animals to humans,” Jayachandran said.