Sunset Zoo’s Denise LeRoux, left, large animal keeper, and Jasmine Sarvi, resident with the K-State Veterinary Health Center, inject vaccine into Vlad, an Amur leopard. (Courtesy photo)

Many of the animals at Sunset Zoo were given protection against COVID-19 this spring thanks to a local effort involving veterinarians in the Manhattan area.

Kansas State University zoo veterinarians worked closely with Sunset Zoo staff to inject animals with a slightly different vaccine, produced by Zoetis, which donated over 15,000 doses of the USDA authorized experimental vaccine. Sara Gardhouse, an assistant professor of exotic pet, wildlife and zoological medicine says the vaccine is slightly different from the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine for humans, but has a lot of similarities.

The ingredient reportedly used in this one is safe for animals and is used to promote a better immune response. An initial dose is given, followed by a booster three weeks after the shot. Those animals are in the process of being administered boosters now, according to Gardhouse, who says the zoo is focused on vaccinating animals known to be susceptible to the virus, including a large number of the mammals and primates in the zoo’s possession.

According to a release from K-State, no animals have seen any side effects from the experimental vaccine to date.