KOCHI: Though there have been reports of Covid infection among animals, including dogs and cats, the state is yet to conduct any comprehensive research or study on the transmission of the virus from animals to human beings 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 neutralise the 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 aim of the vaccine is to protect endangered animals like lions and tigers. Around nine cases of Covid infections were reported in Asiatic lions in 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 couldn’t conduct any solid study or research in this regard.
Veterinary experts say it is high time Kerala prioritised research and studies on animals and track the potential of felines and canines to harbour and transmit the virus. “It would be beneficial if vaccination in animals is taken up simultaneously as it’s the only option we can rely upon in the current scenario. The veterinary sector in the state should conduct studies and research in this field.
It’s high time we gave enough priority to such research and studies on Covid in animals as the virus is evolving and mutating rapidly. We should identify the species of animals which can harbour the virus and study its potential of transmission to human beings,” said K Vijayakumar, dean, College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Pookode. He said that studies show that vaccination helped in preventing around 68% of deaths in human beings. Similarly vaccines can protect animals though there are no reports of death among animals due to Covid.
“Disease among animals can be prevented by vaccinating them. There is always an issue of priority and our entire system has been relentlessly fighting the pandemic and now the fire fighting mode is done
and we can start focusing on all these scopes,” K Vijayakumar added.
‘No study or research by government agencies’
A senior official of the Animal Husbandry Department said they hadn’t launched any study or research on this. “We have sent several samples to the institute in Bhopal for testing but all reports were negative. We haven’t received any directives or guidelines from the Centre on vaccination in animals. We will take necessary steps when the Centre issues directives on vaccinating animals,” the official said. “If private parties or individuals are interested in research on the topic we will definitely support it,” the official added.
Many veterinarians feel that pet parents are least bothered about vaccination as the pandemic situation has become normal in the state. “Earlier when the Covid cases were high, there were plenty of enquiries regarding the availability of vaccines for pet animals. But people are least bothered as there are fewer cases now. We are doubtful about the commercial aspect of the vaccine and no case has been reported in the state to date where the virus has been transmitted from animals to human beings. Also, the available data on the study and research in this field is minimal. If the vaccine is effective in neutralising the variants of the Covid, it should be definitely administered on animals,” said K Sooraj of the Cochin Pet Hospital.
Use CSR funds for research, says animal rights activist
Animal rights activist and former member of Kerala State Animal Welfare Board M N Jayachandran said the government should utilise CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) funds for research related to Covid. “This clause has already been included in the guidelines of the utilisation of CSR funds. There is no dearth of funds for such research activities if CSR funds are utilised,” said Jayachandran.
He said that along with research and studies, the government should raise awareness among the public on the importance of protecting the natural ecosystem of wild animals. “Such awareness is the key to preventing transmission of viruses from animals to human beings,” said Jayachandran.