A vaccine providing protection from the coronavirus for mink and raccoon dogs is currently under development by the University of Helsinki in cooperation with the Finnish Fur Breeders' Association, national broadcaster Yle reported.
"COVID-19 is not just a virus that has serious health effects for humans. We strive for it not to spread to agriculture, the fur industry, and the animal kingdom in Finnish nature", Tarja Sironen, assistant professor at the University of Helsinki, said in a press release.
The vaccine is already in the testing phase, which is expected to take several months. No exact plans for production or distribution have been made public.
"The first initial results are promising. This project provides important information about the effect of the vaccine, it also provides safety for both animals and those who take care of them", Professor Olli Vapalahti at the University of Helsinki said.
Mink turned out to be easily susceptible to the coronavirus, as did racoon dogs under lab conditions, as opposed to foxes.
Many major mink breeder nations have seen coronavirus outbreaks of varying scope among farmed animals. While most responded with sanitary culls, Denmark took this to the extreme and ordered a blanket killing of all 15 million farmed mink to prevent the spread of mutations that could possibly interfere with the vaccination process. Since Denmark was among the world's leaders in the production of mink fur, the eradication of an entire industry opened up new market opportunities for fellow mink breeder nations. By contrast, Sweden took a different path, instead monitoring animals and fur farms, but avoiding culls.
A stable animal vaccine would eliminate major concerns by Finnish fur farmers about the future of the industry, Fur Breeders' Association research director Jussi Peura ventured.
Peura explained that the Finnish Fur Breeders' Association has had working methods in place since last spring to reduce the risk of infection. So far, no coronavirus infections have been detected on Finnish mink farms.
"In Finland, fur breeders have done double work, protecting both themselves and also farmed animals. The vaccine would greatly ease their task", Peura pointed out.
Peura also notes that Finland is in a better position to fight the virus than many other countries, foxes, in which the virus hasn't been detected so far, constitute a major part of its farmed animals. Also, the Finnish network of fur farms is spread out over a large area, eliminating some of the risks of cross-contamination.
In total, there are about a thousand fur farms in Finland which mainly operate as family-run businesses and almost exclusively are located in the region of Ostrobothnia. Finland is the world's leading breeder of foxes and a significant breeder of mink and raccoons.