Russia trials COVID-19 vaccine for domestic animals, including mink

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is close to completing clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine for domestic animals and mink and expects to begin the regulatory approval process in February, according to Russia’s agricultural safety watchdog.

The Federal Centre for Animal Health began developing the vaccine in spring after the authorities established the virus could be passed from humans onto some domestic animals.

Russia became the first country to give regulatory approval to a human vaccine -- Sputnik V -- in August, and is in the process of rolling it out across the country. Over 150,000 people have already received it.

The Russian animal vaccine is aimed at rabbits, mink, cats and some other animals. Clinical trials will end in January and the approval process is likely to begin at the end of February, Yulia Melano, an aide to the head of the agricultural safety watchdog, Rosselkhoznadzor, told Reuters.

The World Health Organization has expressed concern over the transmission of the virus between humans and animals. Denmark last month ordered the culling of all 17 million mink on its farms after concluding that a strain of the virus passed from humans to mink had mutated and spread back to humans.

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Russia has said it believes there will be commercial interest in the new vaccine from its own animal fur breeders and from U.S. and EU businesses.

Two cases of COVID-19 have been registered in cats in Russia but its mink population has not been affected, according to the watchdog.

Ivan Nesterov, acting head of state fur company Russian Sable, told the Zvezda TV station last month that Russia was testing a vaccine and would vaccinate its minks once the process was finished.

The global fur trade, worth more than $22 billion a year, is reeling from Denmark’s decision to kill millions of farmed mink.

Worries of a sudden shortage of mink pelts, of which Denmark was the top exporter, have lifted prices by as much as 30% in Asia, the International Fur Federation (IFF) says.

Reporting by Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Raissa Kasolowsky