The following resources are provided to assist animal care and use programs of Assured institutions in preparing for and coping with the COVID-19 pandemic while maintaining animal welfare.
Please also see our page on Disaster Planning and Response Resources for more resources related to preparing for and responding to natural and other disasters, including pandemics.
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The IACUC is responsible for oversight of the animal care and use program and its components as described in the PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (Policy) and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (Guide).
The Guide (p. 35) states that facilities “must have a disaster plan” to cope with “unexpected conditions [including a pandemic] that result in the catastrophic failure of critical systems or significant personnel absenteeism, or other unexpected events that severely compromise ongoing animal care and well-being.”
Here we provide resources and guidance to help IACUCs prepare for and cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. These options may be employed alone or in combination to meet the individual needs and circumstances of each institution.
Frequently Asked Questions
These questions are also available on the NIH Grants & Funding COVID-19 Flexibilities for Applicants and Recipients webpage, along with other crucial information including changes to applications, reporting, costs, and delays in research progress.
For additional FAQs related to the PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, please visit our FAQ page.
The Guide (pages 35, 74-75) requires that institutions develop disaster plans that take into account the wellbeing of animals and personnel during unexpected events. Conducting a risk assessment will help to identify potential major hazards and threats, such as power outages, HVAC malfunctions, and natural disasters. Considering the geographic location of a facility “may provide guidance as to the probability of a particular type of disaster” (Guide page 35). Location-based risk should be accounted for in the disaster plan with mitigation strategies to address all known vulnerabilities.
The disaster plan “should define the actions necessary to prevent animal pain, distress, and deaths” (Guide page 35). Institutions may find consideration of the following components useful in the development of a comprehensive, effective plan:
- Backup systems for maintaining appropriate temperatures and ventilation if critical systems fail, including HVAC and alarms
- Schemes for transportation and relocation, or euthanasia of animals
- Provision of food, water, sanitation, and bedding during the disaster period
- Provision of services during significant personnel absences
- Establishment of institutional policies and procedures
- Approval of the plan as a part of the overall institutional and/or local disaster plan
- Identification of emergency responders and designation of responsibilities
- Personnel training and practice in the disaster response
- Needs in the event that primary and emergency power sources fail.
Institutions should periodically review and update the plan to adapt to program changes, evolving risk, and lessons learned from drills and actual disasters. Recent hurricanes and tropical storms provide lessons on the unpredictable nature and devastating effects of extreme weather events. Examples of the impact of these events include loss of animals located in basement facilities due to flooding, failure of back-up generators and loss of fuel supplies located in low-lying areas due to flooding, and loss of frozen reagents/specimens due to sustained power outages. Institutions are encouraged to continually re-assess their vulnerabilities as future climate changes are expected to cause higher sea levels and affect precipitation patterns and the severity of storms.
Disasters can happen at any time. With advance preparation, institutions may be able to lessen or eliminate the impact before a disaster occurs. Actions to consider are relocating animals from facilities located in storm surge areas or locations prone to flooding, cryopreserving valuable strains of animals, repositioning emergency power supplies, and backing up vital records in an off-site location.
OLAW provides a Disaster Planning and Response Resources webpage to assist institutions in planning and responding to natural and other disasters affecting animal facilities.
Institutions must adhere to provisions of the PHS Policy, the Guide and the commitments detailed in their Animal Welfare Assurance with OLAW. This includes advance planning for conditions that could arise as a result of a human pandemic (e.g., influenza) or outbreaks of novel infections (e.g., coronavirus disease 2019) that could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of animals because of a lack of personnel to care for the animals and/or to conduct IACUC official business.
Pandemic plans developed by institutions and IACUCs should include consideration of the following:
- Animal facilities must be maintained at a level to ensure animal welfare. Plans should consider appropriate staffing levels, cross-training to cover critical operations, and adequate inventories of essential supplies (e.g., feed, bedding, personal protective equipment, cagewash supplies).
- The IACUC should develop a plan for conducting official business during a pandemic event, taking into account the following:
- The IACUC must continue to be properly constituted.
- A quorum is required to conduct official business at a convened meeting.
- The IACUC must ensure that protocol approvals are not allowed to expire or if they do expire, that no further animal activities (e.g., data collection) are conducted.
- Appointment and training of IACUC members (including nonscientific members and alternates) should be considered as a part of the plan (NOT-OD-01-017).
- In devising a pandemic plan, the institution may wish to consider using options provided in the PHS Policy that it does not choose to use in the normal operation of its animal care and use program. Social distancing means focused measures to reduce contact among people. The PHS Policy contains some provisions that can be instituted as social distancing measures to prevent the spread of disease, including:
- The IACUC may choose to expand their use of designated member review.
- The IACUC may institute alternatives to face-to-face meetings such as teleconference or video conferencing (NOT-OD-06-052).
- The number of IACUC meetings may be reduced to as few as one every six months.
For information about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), see:
- OLAW Waivers to Conduct Semiannual Facility Inspections due to COVID-19 Will Expire October 1, 2022 (NOT-OD-22-207, September 12, 2022). This Notice informs Assured institutions that effective October 1, 2022, existing OLAW waivers to conduct semiannual facility inspections due to COVID-19 will expire, and no new waiver requests will be considered.
- Notice of Limited Availability of Research Non-human Primates (NOT-OD-20-173, September 11, 2020). This Notice informs COVID-19 researchers about shortages in non-human primates and that programmatic priority settings will be implemented to minimize the impact of the shortage.
- Guidance to IACUCs Regarding Use of Designated Member Review (DMR) for Animal Study Proposal Review Subsequent to Full Committee Review (FCR) (NOT-OD-09-035, January 8, 2009). This Notice highlights flexibilities in using DMR, which may ease logistical constraints under the current pandemic situation.
- Guidance on Use of Telecommunications for IACUC Meetings under the PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (NOT-OD-06-052, March 24, 2006). This Notice highlights flexibilities in IACUCs using telecommunications for business requiring a quorum.
ICARE Dialogues: Optimizing Animal Care and Use Program Success in a Changing Environment
- In ICARE Dialogues, attendees participate in interactive sessions to discuss and exchange information to improve animal welfare and increase compliance with federal standards while minimizing regulatory burden during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- COVID-19 Pandemic Response Resources and FAQs for Animal Care and Use Programs - April 8, 2020: NIH OLAW and USDA, APHIS, Animal Care discuss the most recent updates and guidance for animal care and use programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Pandemic Contingency Planning and Its Impact on Animal Care - March 19, 2020: NIH OLAW and USDA, APHIS, Animal Care discuss how your institution can prepare for a pandemic that may impact your animal care and use program.
- Building a Research Occupational Health Program - March 12, 2020: OLAW responds to some questions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Example Disaster Plans
- NIH Division of Veterinary Resources Continuity of Services Plan (PDF)
- Johns Hopkins University Animal Research Coronavirus Phased Contingency Plan (PDF)
- NIH 2008 Pandemic Flu Readiness Plan for Research Animals (PDF)
Strategies to Optimize the Supply of PPE and Equipment
- Laboratory Animal Science Professional 2020; 8(6). Veterinary Staffing Shortages and Potential Solutions During the COVID-19 Pandemic. This article appeared in the AALAS membership magazine, Laboratory Animal Science Professional, November - December 2020, and is reprinted by permission.
- Laboratory Animal Science Professional 2020; 8(4). Maintaining Compliance in Unprecedented Times: Flexibilities for Compliance with the PHS Policy During the COVID-19 Pandemic. This article appeared in the AALAS membership magazine, Laboratory Animal Science Professional, July - August 2020, and is reprinted by permission.
- Lab Animal 2020: 49(5). A Word from OLAW: COVID-19 guidance.
- AAALAC International Coronavirus Guidance
- AVMA Website: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- CDC Website: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- EPA Website: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- FDA Website: Helpful Questions and Answers about Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Your Pets
- NIH Website: Information for NIH applicants and recipients of NIH funding
- NIH Website: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- US Department of Veterans Affairs - VA Animal Research Program
- US Army - Animal Care and Use Review Office (COVID-19)
- USDA Website: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- WHO Website: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- World Organisation for Animal Health and World Veterinary Association joint statement: COVID-19 and Veterinary Activities Designated as Essential
Call (301-496-7163) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) for answers to your questions.