September 30, 2020 — About half a million sharks could be killed to harvest squalene, a natural oil used in vaccines, to create coronavirus-related vaccines, several wildlife experts told The Daily Mail.
Squalene, an ingredient in several COVID-19 vaccine candidates, is made in a shark’s liver. It’s sometimes used to increase the effectiveness of a vaccine by creating a stronger immune response and has been incorporated in some current flu vaccines, the news outlet reported.
If one of the current COVID-19 vaccine candidates that uses squalene is approved, manufactured and distributed worldwide, about 250,000 sharks could be killed to create a single-dose vaccine, according to Shark Allies, a California-based conservationist group.
If two doses are needed, about 500,000 sharks would be needed, the group 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,” Stefanie Brendl, the founder and executive director of Shark Allies, told The Daily Mail.
The group created an online petition to urge companies to use non-animal options. The Change.org petition has more than 25,000 signatures.
Shark Allies suggests using alternatives such as sugarcane, olive oil, yeast or bacteria, according to The Miami Herald. Those sources can be more expensive and take longer to extract.
“’We are not trying to slow down or hinder the production of a vaccine,” Brendl said. “We simply ask that testing of non-animal derived squalene is conducted alongside shark squalene so it can be replaced as soon as possible.”