COVID-19 Vaccine Research Is Facing a Monkey Shortage - The Atlantic

In the past seven months, more than 100 COVID-19 vaccines, therapies, and drugs have been pushed into development. But for any of these treatments to make it to humans, they usually have to face another animal first: a monkey. And here, scientists in the United States say they are facing a bottleneck. There just aren’t enough monkeys to go around.
“Nationally, there is basically a big shortage,” says Koen Van Rompay, an infectious-disease scientist at the California National Primate Research Center. Primate research in the U.S. is expensive and often controversial, making it challenging even in normal circumstances. The pandemic has made acquiring monkeys even harder. “We can’t find any rhesus any longer. They’ve completely disappeared,” says Mark Lewis, the CEO of Bioqual, a contract research organization that specializes in animal testing. Scientists in academia and industry alike are all competing for a limited pool of monkeys.


The rush to manufacture Covid 19 vaccines has caused biopharmaceutical companies to bypass simian testing with new vaccines. This was always an additional step in clinical trials for adjusting dosages and for safety in children, as juvenile monkeys were also tested.  The FDA protocols have been in existence for several decades.  Bypassing simian trials may be faster, but will it be as safe?
As COVID-19 vaccine development has moved forward at an unprecedented pace, though, some pharmaceutical companies have started human trials before monkey studies have concluded. And with monkeys so hard to come by, others are wondering if certain studies can be skipped altogether. Linda Marbán, the CEO of the biotech company Capricor Therapeutics, says her company originally tried to test its vaccine candidates at the California primate center. It couldn’t get in. She’s now exploring how to go straight into human-safety trials.

Scientists who work with primates, however, say that the animal research still offers certain advantages. Monkeys can be challenged—that is, deliberately infected with COVID-19 after being given an experimental vaccine. Researchers can then follow the animals’ exact progression of disease or lack thereof, tracking how quickly antibody levels shoot up or whether a vaccine reduces how long the monkey sheds the virus. These details are harder to get in human trials because people are naturally exposed to COVID-19 and aren’t being monitored every day. (Although some researchers have proposed human challenge trials for COVID-19, the idea is controversial and none has begun.)
Simians are used because they are also considered primates, the same family that human beings are a member.  The close genetic relationship sometimes allow researcher to test medications prior to actual human trials.

The relative scarcity of these monkeys is also due to activism several decades ago. PETA and other animal rights groups invaded and destroyed hundreds of monkeys by breaking into laboratories and destroying them.  This provoked national attention to the plight of research animals.  Many ongoing research studies were destroyed, cancelled or terminated outright. No one can argue with humane treatment of animals during test studies. 

PETA today remains quite active with celebrities advocating kindness to animals. These activities draw quite a bit of interest.  Many of their claims are half-truths and accusations of NIH being cruel to animals is untrue, bordering on libel.

Following the PETA protests in the 1980s Congress, the FDA and NIH reviewed their practices. and established new regulations.

The animals were bred in companies specifically tasked with breeding monkeys, mice (some) are genetically modified for specific diseases. Knock-out mice have been in use for several decades and are instrumental in treating, studying and modeling different kinds of cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, substance abuse, anxiety, aging and Parkinson disease.

Regulation and inspection by Animal Abuse Abundant in Spite of AAALAC Accreditation - USDA Data reveals repeated citations of animal laboratories.

Both sides have self-interest involved. Research laboratories and








-19 Vaccine Research Is Facing a Monkey Shortage - The Atlantic