HSVMA Statement on Mink and COVID-19 Vaccines: 
Mink vaccines unlikely to fix the problem of SARS CoV-2 and COVID-19

(Posted May 3, 2021) SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic, probably originated in bats, and then likely passed through another intermediate host animal before infecting people. The World Health Organization (OIE) has not ruled out fur-farmed animals such as mink and raccoon dogs as potential intermediate hosts. The SARS CoV-2 virus has now affected not only the world’s human population but also non-human animals. OIE has given special attention to fur-farmed mink after outbreaks of the virus have been recorded in the animals on more than 420 fur farms across twelve countries to date, including at least 16 mink farms in the US that have had laboratory-confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2.

Although we have learned a lot since the virus was first reported to infect people in December 2019 and there are now several human vaccines against COVID-19 in people, there is still a lot we don’t know and many unanswered questions. One of the leading questions is whether the world can rid itself of, or at least control, the virus with vaccination. The answer depends on several factors. For one, the type and length of immunity people acquire through infection or vaccination and how the virus evolves will be important. If the virus mutates enough that our current vaccines do not eliminate the virus, people may need further vaccines to control the virus.

Control is also dependent on whether the virus becomes established in an animal population. Even if the vaccine is highly effective and available, the virus could persist in animal reservoirs. If so, it could spill back into people and be impossible to control. No disease has disappeared when the disease in animals plays a role in transmission. Several viruses, such as Ebola, Yellow Fever, and West Nile Virus persist because animal reservoirs provide chances for them to spill back to people.

We know that mink can get the disease from people and can also transmit mutated variants back to people, so the possibility of SARS-COV-2 becoming established in an animal reservoir is a real concern. According to a published research letter in the March 2021 Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal, both wild and presumed escaped mink were found with the virus and likely acquired it from nearby infected farmed mink. This could put native wildlife and domestic animals at risk of SARS-CoV-2.

The U.S. farmed mink industry, rather than following the lead of several European countries that have suspended or eliminated mink fur farming to protect public health, is instead hoping a vaccine will control the virus in farmed mink. No vaccine is 100% effective, and if the virus continues to mutate in mink or in people, the vaccines may not be effective for more than a season, or even less. In that case, vaccines would only be a short-term fix, and mink farmers would have to vaccinate the animals periodically. As with people, even if the mink vaccine is very effective in reducing disease in the mink it is unlikely that it would completely stop infection. This could make mink fur farms silent reservoirs of the virus. SARS-Co-V2 could still spread on a fur farm, since the animals would not look sick, and therefore be even more difficult to detect. This scenario could potentially initiate a recurring cycle of transmission in which infected mink will again be able to transmit a mutated COVID-19 virus back to people.