Conservationists push back on plans to use shark liver in coronavirus vaccines

‘There are better alternatives. The industry must listen,’ says advocacy group Shark Allies

James Crump
Monday 05 October 2020 21:59 BST
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A conservationist group has launched a campaign to prevent shark liver oil from being used in the process to make Covid-19 vaccines.

Shark Allies, a US advocacy group campaigning against the overfishing of sharks, launched a petition on last month that asked for squalene, which is most commonly produced from shark liver oil, to be banned from vaccines used to treat Covid-19.

In the petition, the group wrote that “using sharks in Covid-19 vaccines is short-sighted, unpredictable, and unsustainable. There are better alternatives. The industry must listen.”

The advocacy group added that “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.”

In addition to being found in shark liver oil, squalene can be found in olive oil, rice bran oil and wheat germ oil, according to Fox News.

Squalene is used in various different medicines as an adjuvant, which increases the effectiveness of a vaccine by creating a stronger immune system response in the patient, according to Sky News. It is currently used by British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline in its flu vaccines.

However, in order to extract a single tonne of squalene, 3,000 sharks would have to be killed, and to create enough of the ingredient for every person in the world to be administered one dose of a vaccine, at least 250,000 of them would have to die, according to EcoWatch.

Shark Allies claimed in the petition that the ingredient is being used in five of the Covid-19 vaccine candidates, and has urged for alternatives that do not contain the ingredient to be looked at instead.

Stefanie Brendl, executive director of Shark Allies, told Vice that the use of squalene in a Covid-19 vaccine could cause problems for sharks and humans, as using the resource is not sustainable in the long term.

“It's something we need to get ahead of ASAP, because we are facing many years of vaccine production, for a global population, for many more coronavirus vaccines to come,” Ms Brendl said.

She added: “The real danger is in what this can turn into in the future. A reliance on shark oil for a global vaccine — it's truly insane.

“A wild animal is not a reliable source and cannot sustain ongoing commercial pressure. [And] the overfishing of sharks globally is already at critical levels.”

The petition, which was launched last month, has so far collected more than 58,000 signatures.

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