Half a million sharks could be killed for a Covid-19 vaccine

Emma Curtiss, Staff Reporter

On October 10th, 2020 a shark management group known as Shark Allies located in Los Angeles, California made an estimate that internationally half a million sharks could be killed in order to make an efficient vaccine for Covid-19. 

Shark Allies is a nonprofit organization which advocates to protect sharks.

Squalene is an unsaturated hydrocarbon which is found in certain plants as well as animals and creates chemical reactions with steroids.  

Squalene is located in the liver of sharks and is most commonly used in moisturizing ingredients for cosmetic products. It is also used in vaccines for influenza and malaria because its properties boost immunity. 

“In many shark species, 50% to 80% of the weight of their liver is squalene,” according to Dr. Cory Casper, president and CEO of the Infectious Disease Research Institute. 

A shark on its own can carry up to 300 grams of squalene, which equals enough for an approximate amount of 30,000 doses of vaccine immunity.  

“The amount of squalene that will be needed to manufacture the intended 1 billion doses of its adjuvant system represents a very small proportion of the animal derived squalene used worldwide,” said a representative of GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company located internationally.

Several of the shark species’ populations are at risk of becoming extinct due to overfishing and trades of shark fins. Due to this approximately 100 million sharks are killed a year around the globe.

As of October 2nd, there are approximately 193 coronavirus vaccines being evaluated and about 5 of the vaccines use shark squalene. 

“Five hundred thousand more sharks will be needed to meet Covid-19 demand,” Shark Allies estimates. 

Shark Allies lists that more than 50 shark species are being targeted for their lives such as whale sharks, great white sharks, and basking sharks. These species are already in danger.   

The company has come up with a method which extracts a small amount of squalene from low endangered provenance. 

The company developed a method by which it extracts a small amount of squalene from low-yield sources such as sugar cane and uses a chemical method to develop a semi-synthetic squalene that is amplified,” according to Casper, who infers that the Infectious Disease Research Institute is in partner with Amyris for its “Promising alternative.” 

Amyris is a biotechnology company headquartered in Emeryville, California.The company’s products include ingredients in cosmetics and fragrances. 

Amyris is known for using squalene for cosmetic products but has recently begun the production of squalene for pharmaceuticals. 

“Everybody in the world deserves to have access to a clean and sustainable vaccine without killing one shark,” stated Jon Melo, Amyris CEO. 

There are alternatives to squalene that can be used such as olive oil, sugar cane, and bacteria.