Wildlife experts claim that around half a million sharks may get slaughtered for the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The ocean’s top predators get harvested for squalene – a natural oil derived from their liver, usually used in medicine, like in the current flu jabs. Squalene is used as an adjuvant in an effort to increase the effectiveness of the vaccine by creating a stronger immune response.
Conservationist group Shark allies believe that if one of the vaccines gets used worldwide, over 500,000 sharks will need to be killed. However, some scientists estimate that two doses are needed to immunize the population, doubling the California-based group’s calculations.
Stefanie Brendl, founder and executive director of Shark Allies, said, “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.”
Brendl recently launched a petition named ‘Stop Using Sharks in COVID-19 Vaccine – Use EXISTING Sustainable Options’ against usage of squalene from sharks, adding, “We are not trying to slow down or hinder the production of a vaccine. We simply ask that testing of non-animal derived squalene is conducted alongside shark squalene so it can be replaced as soon as possible.”
In the petition, which has attracted nearly 9,500 signatures of its 10,000 target, the organization says there are ‘better alternatives’ to using squalene in vaccines.
They say that the squalene compound’s chemical structure is identical in sharks and non-animal alternatives, including yeast, sugarcane, and olive oil, meaning that its effectiveness in the vaccine should be similar regardless of its source.
Shark Allies say Amyris, a biotechnology company and one of the leading producers of squalene, uses a process that derives the critical ingredient from sugar cane.
The company’s synthetic squalene has yet to be approved for use in the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, its Chief Executive, John Melo, stated he is in discussions with regulators in the United States to allow their product to be used as an alternative adjuvant instead of shark-based squalene.
According to conservationists’ estimates, over 3 million sharks get slaughtered annually for squalene. Around 3,000 sharks are needed to extract one ton of squalene.