A conservation group is warning that the development of an effective coronavirus vaccine on a global scale could ravage shark populations worldwide, as researchers race to produce a vaccine using an oil derived from sharks.
Squalene, a compound that is harvested from the livers of sharks, is a common moisturizing ingredient in cosmetics. It’s also used in malaria and flu vaccines as an agent that boosts the immune system’s response.
Shark Allies, a nonprofit that advocates for the protection of sharks, projects that some 500,000 sharks could be killed if a coronavirus vaccine with shark squalene proves to be effective. Already, an estimated 2.7 million sharks are killed annually for their squalene to make cosmetics, according to the group.
“The problem is that squalene, used as an ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine, will be seen as something that’s unavoidable, and then as it becomes tested, it becomes the normal ingredient, and nothing else will be tested,” Shark Allies executive director Stefanie Brendl told NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.
As of Oct. 2, there were 193 coronavirus vaccines in clinical and pre-clinical evaluation, according to data released by the World Health Organization. At least five of those vaccines contain shark squalene, according to Shark Allies.