More than 500,000 sharks could be slaughtered for the coronavirus vaccine, say experts

By - World Healthcare Journal

According to leading conservationists, more than 500,000 sharks could be slaughtered for their natural oil in order to produce Covid-19 vaccines.

Squalene, a key ingredient in many of the leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates,is used as an adjuvant. One of the only ways to procure squalene is through harvesting sharks - the oil is naturally produced in their liver. Plant-based methods of creating squalene are now used, but not at such a large scale.

Squalene is important for many of the vaccines to work, as it elicits a stronger immune response in patients when they take it. Without the squalene, the vaccines may be far less effective.

The oil has long been used in the creation of vaccines, with GlaxoSmithKline already using squalene in its flu vaccines. In addition, earlier this year GSK stated that they aim to produce more than one billion doses of squalene for use in Covid-19 vaccine candidates.

As it requires around 3,000 sharks to produce just one tonne of squalene, potentially 500,000 sharks could be slaughtered in order to acquire more of the oil in time - decimating habitats and gravely threatening shark populations.

Shark Allies, a California-based conservationist group, estimates that 250,000 sharks would need to be harvested for everyone on the planet to receive a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and 500,000 if the vaccine requires two shots. At present, frontrunners for the coronavirus vaccine are two dose systems - however, some candidates only require one.

"Harvesting something from a wild animal is never going to be sustainable, especially if it's a top predator that doesn't reproduce in huge numbers,” says Stefanie Brendl, founder and director of Shark Allies.

"There are so many unknowns of how big and how long this pandemic might go on, and then how many versions of it we have to go through, that if we continue using sharks, the numbers of sharks taken for this product could be really high, year after year after year."

Conservationists estimate that up to 3 million sharks are killed every year for squalene, which is also used in the cosmetics industry and in machine oil.

If shark squalene sees a rapid demand increase as a result of the pandemic, many already threatened shark populations could face enormous reductions in size and possibly even extinction.

Shark Allies are calling for synthetic squalene development to be prioritised by pharma and cosmetic companies to provide the huge quantities required in the future, thus saving the global shark population from the ongoing threat to their existence.

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