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Up to Half a Million Sharks Could Be Killed to Produce Coronavirus Vaccine, Warn Conservationists

Squalene, an organic compound harvested from shark livers, is used in a variety of areas, including pharmacology. It is the main ingredient in adjuvants, which are used to improve immune system responses to vaccines. Squalene-based adjuvants are currently used in vaccines to prevent different strains of influenza and coronaviruses.

Up to 500,000 sharks could be killed in order to produce a coronavirus vaccine, warned Shark Allies, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to restoring and preserving the shark population. The group's estimates suggest that in order to vaccinate the world’s population with one inoculation for COVID-19, around 250,000 sharks would need to be killed. Given that previous studies said people would need two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to develop an immune response, means that half a million of sharks could be killed to rid humanity of COVID-19. 

Greedy Pharma

Shark Allies notes that many shark species, such as the gulper shark and basking shark have been classified as vulnerable, meaning their populations are decreasing. The group notes that the use of squalene harvested from sharks, could result in a disaster, with some species becoming endangered or even going extinct.

"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", said Stefanie Brendl, founder and executive director of Shark Allies.

The conservationist group says that squalene could also be produced from plants, but that process is approximately 30 percent more expensive than harvesting squalene from sharks.

"One of the reasons shark squalene is cheaper is because of the ease of extraction of squalene from the shark. Squalene with a purity of >98% is obtained directly from the liver oil of a shark after a single distillation phase in a vacuum at temperatures of 200-230 degrees Celsius. This process takes only 10 hours whereas nearly 70 hours of processing are required to obtain olive oil squalene with a purity higher than 92%. The purity of non-shark-derived squalene, however, can be comparable to that of shark squalene", Shark Allies wrote in their petition addressed to various agencies in Britain, the European Union, and the United States and signed by more than 11,000 people.

The group notes that it is in no way asking pharmaceutical companies to slow down the process of producing a COVID-19 vaccine, but merely asks them to use non-animal derived squalene.

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