Half a Million Sharks Could Be Harvested for Their Squalene-Rich Livers

shark liver covid vaccine 650

A shark's liver is extracted to produce squalene, used in the manufacture of vaccines (Photo: Shutterstock)

To manufacture a Covid-19 vaccine on a global scale more than half a million sharks could be slaughtered, conservationists have warned.

Squalene, a natural oil found in the livers of sharks, is often used to enhance the effect of a vaccine. It is used in many flu jabs and is being used in most of the Covid-19 vaccines currently being tested.

If a squalene-enhanced vaccine is used it would need at least 250,000 sharks to be harvested to provide a dose for world-wide vaccination, according to California-based Shark Allies.

However, some scientists believe two doses may be needed to immunise the population, meaning around 500,000 sharks would need to be slaughtered.  

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.

'There are 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.'

In a Facebook post, she added: '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.

'At billions of doses needed per year, for decades to come, it is critical that we don't rely on a wild animal resource. It can be detrimental to shark species that are hunted for their oil, and it is not a reliable supply chain.'

The group has set up an online petition named 'Stop Using Sharks in Covid-19 Vaccine - Use EXISTING Sustainable Options'.

The senior science adviser for leading animal rights campaign group PETA, Dr Frances Cheng said: 'If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it's that exploiting animals got us into this mess—and continuing to exploit them isn't going to get us out of it. Much like shark-finning, "livering" is a profit-driven business that will reportedly net and kill nearly half a million sharks over the coming years so that their livers can be cut out to obtain squalene for use by certain pharmaceutical companies in creating Covid-19 vaccines. 

'The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that approximately 75 per cent of recently emerging infectious diseases affecting humans began in other animals. Cutting out the body parts of sharks for use in vaccines is not only cruel to animals and dangerously irresponsible from the standpoint of human health but also unnecessary since squalene can readily be derived from plants and many of the candidate Covid-19 vaccines don't contain it.'

The chemical structure of the squalene compound is identical in sharks and non-animal alternatives, meaning its effectiveness in vaccines should be identical regardless of its source.

All plants and animals produce squalene and it can be produced from non-animal-based sources including yeast, sugarcane and olive oil.


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