The race for the COVID19 vaccine development is indirectly threatening the ocean ecosystems – experts and conservationists are warning that about half a million sharks are in danger of being slaughtered.
Shark squalene – which is a natural oil produced in the liver of sharks – is being considered as a component in at least 5 of the covid19 vaccines under development. As reported by the WHO, squalene will be used as an adjuvant; an adjuvant helps vaccines work better by creating a stronger immune response thus making them more effective.
The well-known British pharmaceutical GlaxoSmithKline already uses squalene to make traditional seasonal flu vaccines. But advocacy groups like California based Shark Allies sounded the alarm when the company announced that it would make half a billion doses of such an adjuvant for use in the COVID19 vaccine. To produce one tonne of squalene one will need between 2500 – 3000 sharks. Shark Allies speculate that approximately 2,50,000 sharks would have to be slaughtered for everyone to receive one dose of the vaccine – and the figure would obviously double if two doses are administered. This would amount to half a million sharks.
“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, founder and executive director of Shark Allies, told the Telegraph. Link: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/09/27/half-million-sharks-could-killed-covid-19-vaccine-conservationists/
She is part of the wider advocacy circle that is pushing for adjuvants to be produced from plant based sources. Other scientists are suggesting to use fermented sugarcane to make synthetic squalene as an alternative.
Environmentalists claim that around 3 million sharks are killed annually just for their squalene, which is also widely used in to make other vaccines and cosmetics. In the long term, it would be the entire ocean system at risk and not just the sharks who are already teetering on the edge of being endangered. Sharks specifically are vital for ocean function and health – they are an important part of sustaining life systems.
“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.” – Brendl
Riva Patel, Adjunct Faculty, Unitedworld School of Liberal Arts and Mass Communication (USLM)
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