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COVID-19 vaccine could cost about 500,000 sharks their lives, experts say

Advocacy group claims environmental impact could be devastating
Posted at 10:58 AM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 11:58:53-04

Part of the cure for COVID-19 might be found in sharks dwelling deep in our oceans.

“Everybody’s, ‘oh, there’s a hundred million being taken anyway, why are you worried about vaccine?’” said Stefanie Brendl of Shark Allies, a nonprofit for shark conservation.

She says during the pandemic, more sharks are being harvested for squalene, an oil found in their livers and is often used to increase the effectiveness of vaccines.

“The more products we come up with that require shark parts, the more we’re fueling this 100,000,000 sharks a year number,” she said.

Brendl says many pharmaceutical companies are using shark squalene to produce a coronavirus vaccine and that if everyone in the world received two doses, 500,000 sharks would have to be slaughtered to meet the demand.

“We need to look at this and we need to hold the vaccine companies accountable to test alternatives,” she said.

One of the companies, Brendl, is calling out pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, which plans on manufacturing 1 billion doses of a “pandemic vaccine” in 2021.

While GSK says squalene pulled from shark livers is used in some of its vaccines, the company claims it’s also exploring squalene found in some plants.

“One research team has tried to make in yeast so you could grow cultures of yeasts similar to fermenting beer,” said David Kroll, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus.

He says finding a cure for coronavirus will be the biggest vaccine undertaking in recent medical history.

“The biggest concern is whether more sharks are going to have to be killed for this monumental global effort,” Kroll said.

Shark experts believe this is a global challenge.

“Many of the sharks that are being targeted are deep sea sharks and they’re found in open ocean environments that may not be protected,” said Chris Lowe, a professor of marine biology and director of the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach.

He says tens of millions of sharks are already killed each year and some companies poach shark corpses for squalene to make numerous products ranging from vaccines to cosmetics.

Lowe warns an increase in killings could impact our ecosystem.

“Those animals play a very important role that could affect people on land,” he said.

While the cost of a cure for COVID-19 is still unknown, Lowe says killing more sharks could mean extinction for several shark species.

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