Finland will soon start introducing a specially developed coronavirus vaccine to minks, Yle reports.
The Finnish Food Authority has issued a permit to The Finnish Breeders’ Association (FIFUR) to use the mink coronavirus vaccine. The vaccine was developed by a team of scientists at the University of Helsinki.
FurcoVac was tested in a university laboratory and at an animal farm in Central Ostrobothnia. The immune response in animals was sufficient.
Vaccine development began last fall.
In Finland, no case of coronavirus infection has been reported in fur-bearing animals. Still, in the Netherlands and Denmark, millions of minks have had to be put to sleep to prevent coronavirus spread.
FIFUR will be vaccinating minks against coronavirus in the coming weeks after being granted a conditional license by the Finnish Food Authority.
FurcoVac is classed as an experimental vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 and has been granted a conditional license, although it still lacks a trading license.
The process of developing the vaccine has been challenging, with a tight schedule only adding to the pressure, according to Jussi Peura, the FIFUR project’s research director. FurcoVac utilizes the same raw materials that are needed to produce the vaccines used in humans.
“There were challenges in manufacturing the vaccines and acquiring the raw materials, as human vaccines were also being produced at the same time, and they largely required the same raw materials that we used,” Peura told Yle.
According to the research director, skinning on the Kannus fur farm is due to begin in the next few weeks, after which they can start vaccinating the remaining breeder animals.
“We have enough vaccine doses to vaccinate all Finnish breeding mink twice. A booster vaccine will also be needed,” Peura said.
About half a million doses of vaccine have been set aside for the process.
No infections on Finnish farms
There have been no recorded cases of coronavirus infections in minks at Finnish farms. Farms in other EU countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain, culled millions of mink to prevent the disease from spreading to humans after cases were detected.
According to FIFUR, minks and raccoon dogs, which are bred for fur in the country, are susceptible to the virus, as are cats and white-tailed deer.
“We will continue tackling the epidemic and protecting against the disease in cooperation with the authorities. Having been granted permission for use, this mink vaccine is part of protection measures. This has been a strenuous time for producers who have had to isolate themselves while ensuring workers’ protection,” Peura said.
Studies suggest that minks could transmit the virus back into humans.
“Having these mink farms is a big risk because it makes it much more difficult to manage the epidemic and creates such big reservoirs of susceptible hosts,” Francois Balloux, a geneticist with University College London and co-author of a paper on COVID-19 transmission in minks, told Reuters.
Denmark extends ban on mink breeding to 2023
The government of Denmark has agreed to extend the temporary ban on mink breeding for another year to 2023. The country’s agriculture minister has announced that Denmark is set to extend a ban on mink farming until 2023.
The current ban was instituted after a COVID-19 outbreak in several hundred mink farms in Denmark last year prompted the government to order all mink in the country culled.
Animal Protection Denmark has long argued that mink production is unethical. The organization points out that mink are active predators, which in the wild defend territories, often covering several kilometers and stretches of water. However, on mink farms, they spend their entire lives in very small and barren wire cages, where they are deprived of their basic natural behavior.
With their decision, lawmakers followed an assessment from the country’s top infectious diseases institute, which said that allowing mink breeding in Denmark at the end of this year could still pose a public health risk. Animal Protection Denmark hopes the extension can open the door to a permanent ban.
The decision still needs to be ratified in parliament, says Britta Riis, Director of Animal Protection Denmark.
The temporary ban on mink calves has been triggered and extended due to public health risks, but we are now in a situation where we can ban it permanently for the sake of the animals.
The entire population of mink in Denmark was culled in November 2020 over fears that the animals could transmit a mutated form of the coronavirus to humans.
Minister Rasmus Prehn said a bill to extend the ban on farming mink has the support of the majority of Danish MPs.
“The only thing to do is to extend the ban in force this year by one year so that it applies in 2022,” he told reporters on September 28.
Health authorities had recommended that the ban be extended, as mink farms continued to present “a risk to human health of unknown magnitude.”
“In the spring, we will take a position on the future of mink production in Denmark,” added Zenia Stampe, the Social Liberal Party leader.
Concerns have also been raised that the risk of mutation of the virus in the fur animals could threaten the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
After an outbreak was reported in North Jutland last winter, 17 million animals at several hundred mink farms were culled.
The move did spark controversy, and the Danish government later admitted that it had no legal basis to carry out the cull at the time.
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