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Covid-19 vaccine could kill more than half a million sharks

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Pharmaceutical companies use a substance that comes from sharks and conservation groups demand that an alternative be found that does not destroy them

The sharks could become indirect victims of the pandemic Covid-19. Squalene, a substance obtained from shark liver oil, is being used to make the long-awaited vaccines to help control the spread of the virus. This has put conservation organizations on a war footing, demanding that alternatives be found to stop the killing of sharks.

Squalene is a component of some adjuvants that are added to vaccines to boost the immune response, for example in the influenza vaccine that contains 10 milligrams of this compound per dose.

But for the Covid-19 vaccine, millions of tons are required and, for this, between 2,500 and 3,000 sharks would have to be killed per ton. This has been explained in statements by Stefanie Brendl, director of Shark Allies, the organization based in California that investigates this matter and has denounced the risk that millions of sharks run.

According to this organization, immunizing everyone in the world with a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine that contains squalene would require around 250,000 sharks. This doubles to half a million if two doses are required, as the researchers say.

It is the case that many of the species selected for being rich in squalene, such as the devouring shark and the basking shark, are classified as vulnerable, which means that their populations are declining and could be in danger if the circumstances that threaten them continue.

For this reason, they have launched a signature collection campaign to support a petition addressed to regulatory authorities in the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and China, and to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry.

Shark Allies are not calling for an end to the research and development of vaccines so as not to harm shark, but rather remembering that there are other sources to obtain squalene. Squalene, which is used primarily by the cosmetic industry, can also be obtained from plants and bacteria.

“Shark squalene is not a ‘magic’ or unique ingredient. The chemical structure (C30H50) of the compound obtained from shark liver oil is identical to those of non-animal alternatives and its efficacy in vaccines should be identical”, they emphasize.

The organization asks the pharmaceutical companies that are going to enrich themselves with the COVID-19 vaccines not to think only “about the dollars” but about the planet. The problem, Brendl explains, is that squalene obtained from shark liver oil, which is sold mainly in Asian countries, is cheaper for these companies than the alternatives.

Shark Allies had long been studying the consequences of squalene use by the cosmetic industry on the global shark population when COVID-19 emerged and the research took a new turn, according to Brendl.

The environmental organization insists that using sharks as a source of squalene is “shortsighted, unpredictable and unsustainable” when there are more effective alternatives that do not endanger a wild animal population.

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