COVID-19: At least 500,000 sharks may be killed for vaccine

COVID-19: At least 500,000 sharks may be killed for vaccine

A rise in demand could threaten more species rich in squalene - an essential oil needed for the vaccine - rendering the animals endangered.


Experts have warned that half a million sharks could be killed to help develop the much-needed and anticipated COVID-19 vaccine. 

Sharks have a natural oil in their liver called squalene, which is one of the key ingredients in manufacturing the vaccine. 

The oil is said to increase the effectiveness of a vaccine by creating a stronger immune response - this is seen mostly in the flu vaccine, which sees about three million shark killings every year, according to conservationists.

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According to Sky News, a pharmaceutical company in Britian that manufactures the flu vaccine has revealed that it could produce a billion doses of this adjuvant for possible use in coronavirus vaccines in May. But this would lead to many sharks being killed, as 3,000 sharks are needed to extract one tonne of squalene. 

However, there might be an alternative. Scientists are testing a synthetic version of squalene made from fermented sugar cane.

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"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,” Stefanie Brendl, founder and executive director of Shark Allies, told Sky News.

“There’s 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.”

Shark Allies has launched a petition to stop the killing of sharks for vaccine production. 

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