Half a million sharks face slaughter as drugs companies race to produce coronavirus vaccine made from their livers
HALF a million sharks face slaughter as drugs companies race to produce coronavirus vaccines made from their livers, conservationists warn.
A key ingredient in some forms of vaccine now under development is squalene, a natural oil that is harvested from sharks.
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Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline already uses shark squalene in its adjuvant – a substance used to create a stronger immune response – in flu vaccines.
In May, it said it would manufacture a billion doses of the shark-based adjuvant for potential use in Covid-19 vaccines.
This could spell "disaster for sharks and humans" and could push vulnerable species to the brink of extinction, say US-based campaign group Shark Allies.
The group has an online petition calling for scientists to "stop using sharks in Covid-19 vaccine".
Instead, they want vaccine makers to use sustainable plant-based alternatives, to save sharks from being culled.
Some 3,000 dead sharks are needed to make one ton of squalene.
Conservationists estimate that to immunise the world's population with just one dose of a coronavirus vaccine with squalene would lead to the culling of 250,000 sharks.
And this number doubles to half a million should two doses be needed to protect people from Covid-19.
Shark Allies add: "Squalene made from shark liver oil is used most commonly because it is cheap to obtain and easy to come by, not because it is more effective than other sources.
"This could spell potential disaster for sharks and humans since this resource is neither sustainable nor reliable for the mass production of a Covid-19 vaccine.
"Shark squalene production requires relying on a finite, wild animal population.
"Most shark species are already at critical levels and will not withstand an increase in demand for a global vaccine."
For many years, squalene-adjuvanted vaccines have been used to treat or prevent diseases such as different strains of influenza and coronaviruses including SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV, as well as rabies.
Activists are worried that, in the race to develop the vaccine, "the demand for shark squalene could skyrocket, leading to a significant increase in the killing and harvesting of sharks for their livers.
"Why would a company choose to use shark-derived squalene in their adjuvants, over sustainable plant-based alternatives?
"The only answer we can see is cost. Plant-based squalene is approximately 30 per cent more expensive than shark squalene.
"One of the reasons shark squalene is cheaper is because of the ease of its extraction from the shark."
This process takes only ten hours whereas nearly 70 hours of processing are required to obtain olive oil squalene with the same purity.
The campaigners add: "We want to make this clear, Shark Allies is no way asking these companies to slow down the process of a Covid-19 vaccine.
"Instead, we are asking these companies to replace the shark squalene in some of these vaccine adjuvants with alternative non-animal-derived squalene."
Using sharks in Covid-19 vaccines is "short-sighted, unpredictable, and unsustainable. There are better alternatives. The industry must listen," SA urges.
Nearly 9,000 people have signed the California-based group's petition.
Conservationists estimate more than three million sharks are killed each year to obtain their liver oil for various uses, including in cosmetics and machine oil.
Many of the species targeted for being rich in squalene, such as the gulper shark and basking shark, are classed as vulnerable, meaning their populations are decreasing and they could become endangered.
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