The live tiger mascot at Louisiana State University (LSU) is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, university officials said Monday.
Efforts to vaccinate the tiger, named Mike VII, against the virus began as the university prepared to welcome students back to campus for the fall semester amid the spread of the virus’ Delta variant. The variant has swept throughout the U.S. this summer, causing upticks in both new cases and virus-related hospitalizations across the country.
A news release LSU issued Monday said Mike VII, who turns 5 next month, received his first COVID-19 vaccine dose on July 16 and his second on August 6.
Barriers put in place last year around the habitat he occupies, which were intended to create space between the tiger and his visitors, will be removed next week now that he has received both doses, university officials said.
Mike VII is one of several large mammals who has been vaccinated against COVID-19. After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use last December, the animal health company Zoetis began sharing its experimental vaccine for select animals believed to be at risk of contracting COVID-19.
In April 2020, the Bronx Zoo in New York said one of its tigers tested positive for the virus and several of its other large cats appeared to have symptoms similar to those of the infected tiger. Earlier this year, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Southern California announced some of its gorillas tested positive for the virus. Months after the gorillas recovered, the safari park said one of its snow leopards was also thought to have contracted the virus.
Zoetis began donating some of its experimental doses in January after the gorillas in San Diego tested positive, and it has continued to share vaccines intended to protect large animals from the virus in the months since. The experimental vaccines were “authorized for experimental use on a case by case basis” by state veterinarians and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Zoetis. By early July, the company said it was sharing more than 11,000 doses for more than 100 species, including mountain lions, grizzly bears, ferrets, tigers and more.
As of Monday, LSU said Mike VII had not experienced any negative side effects in connection with the vaccine doses he received, but the school added that the tiger will continue to be watched by those charged with caring for him.
After the university announced Mike VII received his second vaccine dose, the mascot’s official Twitter account shared a photo of the tiger and words of encouragement for LSU students to get vaccines of their own.
“Be like Mike! Got my COVID-19 vaccine,” the account tweeted.
Last week, LSU President William Tate released a letter to incoming students, faculty and staff members detailing the university’s continued virus response heading into its fall semester. All students are required to either show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, the latter of which must be retaken monthly. Individuals are also required to wear masks inside unless they are occupying an office alone, as well as outdoors when they are within 50 feet of a school building entrance.
“I urge each of you—students, faculty, staff and your families—to get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so,” Tate said in his open letter to the LSU community. “The vaccine is free, safe, effective and readily available on campus and throughout most communities. It is the single most effective thing you can do to help us restore ‘normal’ operations to the university.”
Newsweek reached out to LSU for further comment and will update this article with any response.