SYDNEY, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) -- While Australians continue to line up for their COVID-19 vaccinations, one of the nation's most beloved native animals, koalas, are now receiving their own life-saving jabs against the disease chlamydia.
Starting from Friday, the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, in the state of Queensland, will conduct a vaccination trial on about 400 koalas to protect them from chlamydia, which can lead to infertility and blindness in the marsupials.
Scientists from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) are leading the project to save the animals, whose populations have plummeted in recent years from the disease, as well as factors such as last year's devastating bushfires and widespread deforestation. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates the iconic animal's number could now be as low as 50,000.
USC professor of microbiology Peter Timms said the vaccine could play a vital role in the longer-term survival of koalas, especially in the southeast region of Queensland and the state of New South Wales (NSW), where chlamydia affects more than half the koala population.
The trials will also soon be extended to other wildlife hospitals and sanctuaries in the two states.
"The vaccine has been evaluated in more than 200 koalas in eight smaller trials so far, both in captive and wild koalas entering wildlife hospitals and in koala populations in the wild," Timms said.
"We are now at the exciting stage of being ready to rollout the vaccine as part of large trials," Timms said.
Timms said koalas admitted to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital would receive the single dose via an injection after they had undergone routine hospital care and just prior to their release back into the wild.
"While this vaccination will directly benefit each of the animals, the trial will also have a focus on the protection provided by vaccination," he said.
"All the koalas will be microchipped, and the hospital will record any animals that return for any reason over the following 12 months," said the professor.
The hospital veterinarian and research coordinator Dr. Amber Gillett said although many koalas with chlamydia can be treated using traditional antibiotics, some can not be saved due to the severity of their infection.
"Having a vaccine that can help prevent both infection and the severity of the disease is a critical element in the species' conservation management," Gillett said. Enditem