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Coronavirus

Half a million sharks may be killed to produce global Covid-19 vaccine

Some 3,000 sharks are needed to extract one tonne of squalene, a compound used to improve the function of vaccines.
Some 3,000 sharks are needed to extract one tonne of squalene, a compound used to improve the function of vaccines. AFP/File

Conservationists in the United States are warning the race to a coronavirus vaccine may see the slaughter of half a million sharks, causing irreversible damage to our oceans’ ecosystems.

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This is because squalene, a natural oil made in the liver of sharks, is an ingredient in several of the candidate vaccines in clinical trials. 

According to the World Health Organisation, squalene is used as an adjuvant, meaning it increases the effectiveness of a vaccine by creating a stronger immune response. 

While more than 200 potential vaccines around the world are in development, fewer than 10 have advanced to late-stage clinical trials. 

The British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline, which already uses shark squalene in flu vaccines, has said it would manufacture a billion doses of the adjuvant for potential use in vaccines to fight Covid-19.

Push for plant squalene

However Shark Allies, a California-based advocacy group, has launched a petition against the use of squalene from sharks for making coronavirus vaccine, calling on the industry to further explore the use of sustainable, non-animal squalene alternatives.

Some 3,000 sharks are needed to extract one tonne of squalene and, in the event a vaccine is produced globally and everyone on the planet receives two doses, Shark Allies says more than half a million sharks would need to be killed.

“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,” the group’s founder, Stefanie Brendl, told The Telegraph, in London.

“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.”

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