Vaccination against coronaviruses in domestic animals

14 Jul 2020
Tizard IR


The current pandemic of COVID-19 has set off an urgent search for an effective vaccine. This search may well benefit from the experiences of the animal health profession in the development and use of coronavirus vaccines in domestic animal species. These animal vaccines will in no way protect humans against COVID-19 but knowledge of the difficulties encountered in vaccinating animals may help avoid or minimize similar problems arising in humans. Diverse coronaviruses can infect the domestic species from dogs and cats, to cattle and pigs to poultry. Many of these infections are controlled by routine vaccination. Thus, canine coronavirus vaccines are protective in puppies but the disease itself is mild and self-limiting. Feline coronavirus infections may be mild or may result in a lethal immune-mediated disease - feline infectious peritonitis. As a result, vaccination of domestic cats must seek to generate- protective immunity without causing immune-mediated disease. Vaccines against bovine coronavirus are widely employed in cattle where they protect against enteric and respiratory disease in young calves. Two major livestock species suffer from economically significant and severe coronavirus diseases. Thus, pigs may be infected with six different coronaviruses, one of which, porcine epidemic diarrhea, has proven difficult to control despite the development of several innovative vaccines. Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus undergoes frequent genetic changes. Likewise, infectious bronchitis coronavirus causes an economically devastating disease of chickens. It too undergoes frequent genetic shifts and as a result, can only be controlled by extensive and repeated vaccination. Other issues that have been encountered in developing these animal vaccines include a relatively short duration of protective immunity, and a lack of effectiveness of inactivated vaccines. On the other hand, they have been relatively cheap to make and lend themselves to mass vaccination procedures.