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Shark-based coronavirus vaccines spark controversy, conservationists launch campaign to prevent their use

The Boss 37 October 5, 2020

Conservationists have launched a campaign to prevent the use of squalene, produced from shark liver oil, in COVID-19 vaccines.

Shark Allies, a Los Angeles-based group dedicated to the conservation of sharks and rays, has started a Change.org petition to stop the use of the compound in vaccines to battle COVID-19.

“Using sharks in COVID-19 vaccines is short-sighted, unpredictable, and unsustainable,” the petition says. “There are better alternatives. The industry must listen.”

More than 58,000 people have signed the petition, which was launched about a month ago.

“Shark squalene has been used as the main ingredient in some adjuvants to boost efficacy in vaccines,” the petition adds. “Squalene made from shark liver oil is used most commonly because it is cheap to obtain and easy to come by, not because it is more effective than other sources.”

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An adjuvant is an ingredient in some vaccines that creates a stronger immune response, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A great white shark swimming just below the surface. The environment is the deep blue ocean. The shark looks to be in hunting mode.

A great white shark swimming just below the surface. The environment is the deep blue ocean. The shark looks to be in hunting mode. (iStock)

Shark Allies’ petition warns that the use of shark squalene could spell “potential disaster” for humans and sharks, noting that the resource is neither sustainable nor reliable for the mass production of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Shark squalene production requires relying on a finite, wild animal population. Most shark species are already at critical levels and will not withstand an increase in demand for a global vaccine,” the conservationists say. “Countries producing shark squalene may soon need the oil for their own vaccine.”

The shark squalene supply chain has never been tested at the level that a coronavirus vaccine would require, they add, also voicing concerns about quality control.

Citing USA.gov, the Orlando Sentinel reports that squalene has been harvested from shark livers on account of its “cost effectiveness and bountifulness.”

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In its "Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines" published on Oct. 2, the World Health Organization notes a candidate vaccine with a squalene adjuvant but does not describe the source of the squalene.

The Shark Allies petition calls for the urgent use of non-animal squalene in place of animal squalene.

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In addition to shark liver oil, squalene can also be found in olive oil, wheat germ oil and rice bran oil, according to information on the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine website.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers