Štrbenc, M., Kuhar, U., Lainšček, D. et al. 2023. Rehoming and other refinements and replacement in procedures using golden hamsters in SARS-CoV-2 vaccine research. Animals 13(16), 2616.

Effective vaccines are needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty golden hamsters were inoculated with two promising vaccine candidates and eighteen animals were used in pilot trials with viral challenge. ELISA assays were performed to determine endpoint serum titres for specific antibodies and virus neutralisation tests were used to evaluate the efficacy of antibodies. All tests with serum from vaccinated hamsters were negative even after booster vaccinations and changes in vaccination protocol. We concluded that antibodies did not have sufficient neutralising properties. Refinements were observed at all steps, and the in vitro method (virus neutralisation test) presented a replacement measure and ultimately lead to a reduction in the total number of animals used in the project. The institutional animal welfare officer and institutional designated veterinarian approved the reuse or rehoming of the surplus animals. Simple socialization procedures were performed and ultimately 19 animals were rehomed, and feedback was collected. Recently, FELASA published recommendations for rehoming of animals used for scientific and educational purposes, with species-specific guidelines, including mice, rats, and rabbits. Based on our positive experience and feedback from adopters, we concluded that the rehoming of rodents, including hamsters, is not only possible, but highly recommended.

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