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America Is Facing a Monkey Shortage

Thud457 shares a report from USA Today: The race for a coronavirus vaccine to help end the pandemic has consumed the scientific community and created an escalating demand for an essential resource: monkeys. Before drug companies call on human volunteers, monkeys are used in preclinical trials to test a vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. But with more than 100 vaccines in development around the world, there aren’t enough monkeys to go around. “There is a shortage,” said Dr. Skip Bohm, associate director and chief veterinary medical officer of the Tulane National Primate Research Center.

Like other aspects of society, the pandemic has underscored an already existing problem. Nonhuman primate research centers have been strained in recent years because of restrictions on imported monkeys from countries like China and India, and a lack of funding to support domestic breeding. “We’ve always been in a state where we were always very close to the level of production to meeting the demand for research, and that has been the status for several years,” Bohm said. “When the COVID pandemic came about, that just pressed us even further.” According to a 2018 analysis by the National Institutes of Health, the national primate centers’ projected demand for monkeys would increase by 20% to 50%. Most centers were not equipped to accommodate that kind of increase — then the pandemic hit.

Tulane’s primate research center has about 5,000 monkeys but only about 500 are used for research in a normal year because of age, health and colony dynamics. This year, Bohm estimates the same number of primates might be needed across the centers just for COVID-19 research alone. To satisfy the demand, NIH and research centers have had to collaborate more closely than ever. NIH created a committee to prioritize COVID-19 research while centers developed master protocols to optimize research, including sharing control groups.

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