There Is No Monkey Shortage for COVID-19 Research — Because No Monkeys Are Needed


There Is No Monkey Shortage for COVID-19 Research — Because No Monkeys Are Needed

8 December 2020
There’s a concerted effort afoot by animal experimentation industry trade groups and lobbyists to convince the public that even more money needs to be wasted on painful and pointless tests on animals to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to market.

The two vaccines now in clinical trials are pointing us in a new and better direction. Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna, the companies responsible for creating the COVID-19 vaccines, did some animal testing, as required by the FDA, but they by-passed what is normally a years-long process of animal studies. That process is nearly always a dead-end.

The companies acknowledged that they knew the virus affects animals differently from humans so there would have been no point to the eight- to ten-year process of administering it to various animal species — a process that fails nearly all of the time to produce a vaccine that is effective in humans.

The reason has become increasingly clear in the last decade: Animals are not miniature humans. Developing a vaccine in monkeys and mice means it works in those species, but rarely in humans.

Animals are complex social beings like humans but they differ genetically and physiologically in important ways. Their immune systems respond differently to pathogens and vaccines. Definitive research shows the SARS CoV-2 virus adapts to and mutates in monkey tissues. In other words, monkeys infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 end up with that virus and another virus that mutated and adapted to monkey cells.

Significant advances in the fight against COVID-19 are coming through epidemiological studies and in vitro (in the test-tube or culture dish) work using human cells, through integrative modelling and molecular simulations that can assess the different properties of the virus, through 3D printed human tissues, cell-based assays and organs-on-a-chip.

Some researchers are using the world’s most powerful supercomputer to identify existing drugs that could be effective COVID-19 treatments.

The results from these types of research are more accurate and they are directly relevant to humans.

About the Author

Lisa Jones-Engel

Primatologist Lisa Jones-Engel is a Fulbright scholar, former scientist and professor at the University of Washington. She now advises People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals ( She wrote this for"