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Ape named “Karen” receives animal version of COVID-19 vaccine

Have you gotten your COVID vaccination yet? Well, as Americans go “ape” trying to get one of the three vaccine doses being offered, a group of primates at the San Diego Zoo became the first non-humans be vaccinated — including an orangutan named “Karen.”

Since vaccine distribution began in the U.S. on Dec. 14, more than 80 million doses have been administered, reaching 15.9% of the total U.S. population, according to federal data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. is currently administering over 2 million shots a day.

In January, eight gorillas at the zoo’s Safari Park tested positive for the illness in possibly the first case of an insect-to-great ape infection.

Nadine Lamberski, a global conservation and wildlife health officer told Business Insider that “alarm bells” first went off when Winston, a 49-year-old silverback gorilla, began coughing days after a wildlife specialist tested positive.

“As soon as we knew that an employee was positive, we were on high alert, so just that one or two coughs really sent the alarm bells off, and we immediately started to get the permissions necessary to submit samples for diagnostic testing,” Lamberski told the outlet.

After the infected apes made a full recovery, Lamberski said the team then worked hard on obtaining vaccines for the animals.

Veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis developed the experimental jab, which is not built nor suitable for human use, according to Insider, which cited the National Geographic.

In total, four orangutans — including one named Karen, who was also the first ape in the world to have open-heart surgery in 1994 — and five bonobos received the vaccine.

There are fewer than 5,000 gorillas left in the wild and researchers have expressed concern that the COVID-19 could spread rapidly if just one ape caught the virus.

Paul Baribault, President and CEO of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, told Insider: “As we move forward out of COVID, I think we certainly hope that the world has a greater understanding of our interdependency, that we are dependent on the health of nature.

“We are dependent on the health of wildlife. Our health is tied to all of it,” he said.