COVID-19 Vaccine Development Threatens Shark Populations

By: Discovery

Conservationists warn that half a million sharks could be killed and harvested to develop the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines. But what do sharks have to do with vaccines? One word: squalene.

September 28, 2020

Sharks produce a natural oil in their livers called squalene, which is an ingredient currently used in flu vaccines. The World Health Organization (WHO) states on its Global Vaccine Safety site that each dose contains about 10 mg of squalene. 22 million doses have been administered since 1997. Why is squalene added to vaccines? The WHO says that, “Squalene is a component of some adjuvants that are added to vaccines to enhance the immune response.”

With the increased need for a COVID-19 vaccine to temper the pandemic around the world, the race is on among vaccine developers. But conservationists, like Shark Allies, are very concerned about what this means for shark populations that are already in decline—especially since five COVID-19 vaccine candidates include adjuvants with squalene harvested from sharks.

Basking Shark feeding on plankton during the bloom in the Scottish waters off the Isle of Coll.

476223202

Basking Shark feeding on plankton during the bloom in the Scottish waters off the Isle of Coll. Basking sharks are rich in squalene which makes them vulnerable to being killed and harvested for vaccine development.

Photo by: Rebecca-Belleni-Photography

Rebecca-Belleni-Photography

Basking Shark feeding on plankton during the bloom in the Scottish waters off the Isle of Coll. Basking sharks are rich in squalene which makes them vulnerable to being killed and harvested for vaccine development.

In speaking with The Telegraph, the California-based conservation group warned that if the world's population received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine containing squalene, around 250,000 sharks would need to be killed, depending on the quantities used. But if two doses are needed, this would likely increase to half a million sharks killed and harvested for their liver oil.

Shark Allies Founder and Executive Director Stefanie Brendl added, “Anything harvested from wild animals is not sustainable, especially since many shark species are endangered… If we continue using sharks, the numbers of sharks taken for this product could be really high, year after year after year.”

Brendl continued to clarify that the organization is not against the pursuit of vaccine developments but they just “hope that companies would test non-animal derived squalene...alongside shark squalene so that it can be replaced as soon as possible." At-risk shark species that are rich in squalene include gulper and basking sharks.

Currently, Shark Allies is petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, European regulators, China's National Medical Products Administration, and vaccine developers to stop the use of shark squalene in all pharmaceutical drugs.

Next Up

Are Shark Attacks on the Rise? Not Really.

Maine had its first recorded deadly shark attack this week. We talk to experts about what is going on in the ocean and share some tips if you find yourselves in close contact with a shark.

There’s a Lot You Don’t Know About Sharks

But in the meantime, here are some fin-tastic facts you probably didn’t know about sharks.

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act Passed the US Senate

On World Ocean’s Day 2021, CHOW (Capitol Hill Ocean Week) took a CHOMP out of the threats that sharks are still enduring. The CHOW bite came in the form of the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (SFSEA- S. 1106), which recently passed the senate and is now returning to the House for approval.

New Study Reveals True Size of Megalodon

Scientists know great white sharks are living descendants of megalodon sharks, but what we didn’t know was the true scale of the prehistoric animal. That is, until now.

The Great Easter (Shark) Egg Hunt

In the United States, we know that every April brings a giant bunny hiding an array of colorful eggs that vary in size, color and texture. But did you know the ocean’s got its own version?!

King of the (Sea) Monsters

This story begins like any good Godzilla flick: the unsuspecting scientist, perfectly specialized for their twist of fate, does something mundane. Then ‘BOOM!’ the monster appears--in this case the Godzilla shark.

New Walking Shark Species Discovered

A shark that walks, evolutionary conundrums, temperature changes, and tectonic shifts lead scientists to discover four new species of sharks.Watch Island of the Walking Sharks on Wednesday, July 27 at 8:00pm ET/PT on Discovery and stream it on discovery+.

Get Your Heart Pumping for Shark Week 2022

Shark Week 2022 starts July 24 on discovery and discovery+.

Meet the Shark Species at Georgia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium’s expert animal team cares for several shark species, from the great hammerhead and tiger sharks, to the largest in the sea - whale sharks (yes, they are a part of the shark family). Some of these species are apex predators essential to our ocean’s ecosystem. Unfortunately, humans are the number one threat to their populations.

Bob the Shark Takes Over Shark Week’s Amazon Alexa & Google Home Voice Skill

It’s not summer without Shark Week and it’s not Shark Week without Bob the Shark! Now you can talk to him about all things Shark Week on your Google Home or Amazon Alexa devices.

Related To: