Animal research

Covid-19 and animal research

Animals were widely used to research Covid-19, especially at the start of the pandemic, because very little was known about the virus. Research using animals has been crucial to the development of all Covid-19 vaccines that have been cleared for use in the UK.

Read the UAR article: “Top 10 myths about the Covid-19 vaccine”

What is Covid-19?

Covid-19 is the name of a disease caused by the SARS-Cov-2 virus. The SARS-Cov-2 virus causes flu-like symptoms that can vary widely between individuals and the strain of virus contracted.

Where does Covid-19 come from?

On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was notified of a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The cause was quickly identified as a new and emerging virus of unknown origin and in mid-January the genetic sequence of SARS-Cov-2 was shared globally by Chinese scientists, so that others can effectively study the disease.

To date, the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic, has not been identified. So far, scientific evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 likely evolved in wild animals and spread to humans via an unidentified animal host. Several studies have concluded that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan City was the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, some scientists disagree and say the evidence shows the market was a “significant place of spread” but not necessarily the point of origin. According to Nature, none of the studies contain definitive evidence about the type of animal that may have harbored the virus before it spread to humans, indicating that the jump from animals to humans may have occurred. earlier.

Many scientific researchers continue to study the origins of Covid-19 in order to prevent future pandemics of this type.

Read the UAR article “Coronavirus warning signs: why we knew it but couldn’t stop it”.

How were animals used to develop Covid-19 vaccines?

Animals have been used in the development of every vaccine licensed for use against SARS-Cov-2 (Covid-19) in the UK. Currently, six vaccines are approved for use against Covid-19 in the UK;

  • Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine
  • Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
  • modern vaccine
  • Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine (not currently available)
  • Novavax vaccine (not currently available)
  • Valneva vaccine (not currently available)

Read the UAR articles: “How effective is the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine?” and “RNA vaccines: a new tool against Covid-19”

Test if the vaccine is likely to create an immune response against Covid-19

The information below relates to the development of Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines. Updated information on Novavax and Valneva vaccines will follow.


Mice have been used to test the safety of three of the Covid-19 vaccines currently approved for use in the UK. Regulations in the UK require all medicines and vaccines to be tested for safety in two animal species before they can be given to humans, to avoid injury or death to volunteers in clinical trials. on the man. A specialized mouse model of Covid-19 disease has been created to mimic the human response.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was also tested in aged mice to see if a patient’s age could alter the immune response to the vaccine.


Monkeys were used by the four vaccine developers to test whether the vaccine could trigger a strong immune response against Covid-19.

Monkeys can be infected with Covid-19, producing an immune response in much the same way as humans. One of the reasons monkeys are used in medical research is that their immune systems closely resemble our own, which is why the use of monkeys is common in preclinical research on vaccines.


Like monkeys, ferrets can also be infected with Covid-19 and produce an immune response that mimics ours. Ferrets were used to test the safety and effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.


Hamsters have a more severe form of Covid-19 compared to monkeys and ferrets, which is why they have been used to study potential treatments and strategies that could help people with severe Covid-19 infections. Hamsters were also used to test the safety and efficacy of the single-dose Janssen vaccine.


The immune systems of pigs and humans share important similarities, which is why pigs were used, along with monkeys, mice and ferrets, to test the immune response to the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are used in regulatory testing to check the quality of each batch of vaccines to ensure they can be safely administered to human volunteers in the next stage of testing.


A unique type of tiny antibody produced by llamas at the University of Reading is being used to develop a potential treatment for Covid-19 that can be taken by patients as a simple nasal spray.

Did animals used to test Covid-19 vaccines die?

When the Covid-19 vaccines were first licensed, many conspiracies circulated on the internet claiming that all animals used in vaccine trials were dead. That’s not true and it doesn’t make much sense, given that one of the main purposes of testing vaccines on animals is to make sure the vaccine won’t harm human volunteers in clinical trials. . You can read the Full Fact article that demystifies this problem here “Covid-19 vaccine did not kill all the animals it was tested on”.

Why should research on Covid-19 continue?

Research on Covid-19 and SARS-Cov-2 should continue in the future, both to protect human and animal health, and to ensure that we are better prepared for any similar situation in the future.

Read the UAR article: “Research on Covid-19 must continue”

Tracking virus mutations

When SARS-Cov-2 originated we were aware that only one strain spread between people, over time the virus seemed to mutate creating new strains with varying symptoms, some much worse than other strains. ‘others. SARS-Cov-2 continues to change and mutate; there are at least six named variants of the SARS-Cov-2 virus, including the well-known Omicron and Delta variants, as well as many unnamed versions that have not made headlines. Mutation tracking of the SARS-Cov-2 virus is essential to protect us from any new and emerging variants and to ensure that current preventatives and treatments continue to work against them.

Creating better vaccines

Although we now have several vaccines to choose from, there is always room for improvement. The vaccines available on the market are all slightly different, they have different vaccine delivery mechanisms, they require different storage environments, and they must be administered at different intervals and frequencies. As mentioned earlier, Covid-19 continues to evolve and mutate into different strains, so far current vaccines have been resistant to these mutations, but this may not continue in the long term.

The Francis Crick Institute is working to develop a universal coronavirus vaccine. The institute recently published a study that identified a specific region of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein as a promising target for a pan-coronavirus vaccine. The universal coronavirus vaccine would work against all mutations of Covid-19, as well as coronaviruses that cause the common cold. Creating a vaccine capable of preventing an entire family of viruses, which have been circulating for thousands of years, would be a big step for humanity.

UAR articles on Covid-19:

Research on Covid-19 must continue

Top 10 myths about the Covid-19 vaccine

How effective is the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine?

RNA vaccines: a new tool against Covid-19

Could llama antibodies treat viruses like Covid-19?

Coronavirus warning signs: Why we knew it but couldn’t stop it

The Russian vaccine against Covid-19 for animals

Strong public acceptance of animal research to find treatments for COVID-19