A conservationist with Shark Allies says acquiring a shark-based ingredient for a possible COVID-19 vaccine could require over 500,000 sharks to be harvested.
According to wildlife organization Shark Allies, GlaxoSmithKline will produce one billion doses of a coronavirus vaccine. The company – a British pharmaceutical giant – is a prominent manufacturer of flu vaccines. These flu vaccines, too, include the ingredient causing concerns for conservationists.
In order for GSK to produce such vaccines, they need shark squalene. Squalene is a natural oil that the livers of shark produce. It creates an incredibly strong “response” in a recipient’s immune system. As a result – it is a near-priceless commodity to the vaccine-maker.
Half-a-million sharks for British COVID vaccine?
Shark Allies, however, has done the math for the shark’s side of this equation. The organization claims GSK will need to harvest a quarter-of-a-million sharks to produce this amount of squalene. And to clarify – to harvest these sharks is to hunt and kill 500,000 from threatened populations of sharks. Naturally, this does not sit well with conservationists, nor supporters of wildlife.
What’s more, the organization warns that if individuals require two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine… then the number of sharks needed, too, will double. The number then jumps to half a million sharks disappearing from Earth’s oceans. Sharks are already over-hunted, too. As such, the impact of this across oceanic ecosystems would be widespread.
Not sustainable: Sharks are a “top predator that doesn’t reproduce in huge numbers.”
Lead researcher of Shark Allies, Stefanie Brendl, clarifies her organization’s warning:
“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, Shark Allies
Squalene – which is also a key ingredient in cosmetics, lubricants, and machine oils – is heavily-sought already. Conservative estimates point to 3 million sharks being killed every year for their livers. Some squalene-producing shark livers can weigh almost 200 pounds.
Yet as the U.S. alone sees over 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 in 2020, the vaccine will likely be made anyway, regardless of the cost.