Sharks are in the news, but not for their normal gimmicks. She and her squalene, an oil found in their livers, appear to play a role in COVID-19 vaccine history.

Squalene is used as an adjuvant in vaccines and chemotherapy drugs. An adjuvant speeds up the immune system, which leads to a greater immune response, which means better resistance to the pathogen. Squalene has been used in a flu vaccine for years. A recent census shows that this vaccine has been given to 100 million people in 30 countries.

Adjuvants can do more than just boost the immune response. A strong immune response can mean that a vaccine needs less antigen per dose, and therefore the adjuvant can produce more doses for more people. “The use of an adjuvant can be of particular importance in a pandemic situation as it can boost the immune response and reduce the amount of antigen required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced and thus helping to protect more people,” he said a spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). It is the antigen that fights foreign invaders in the body.

The squalene used in the flu vaccines has an “excellent safety record” according to the CDC.

But do we need a bigger boat?

Vaccination is necessary to prevent the spread of diseases, from the annual flu to HPV, measles, mumps, rubella and the coronavirus. And, according to the GSK, the amount of squalene needed for the adjuvant is “a very small proportion of the animal-derived squalene used worldwide – the vast majority of squalene produced is used by other industries including the cosmetics industry.”

But the sharks have friends. A campaign against the use of shark squalene has been launched by the non-profit Shark Allies. The online petition now has 103,000 signatures. Stefanie Brendl, founder and managing director of Shark Allies, told Medical Daily that she is also reaching out to manufacturers who make alternative sources of squalene.

In October, a team of researchers from the University of Kentucky showed that squalene made from yeast is as effective as that made from sharks, and that yeast is not the only possible source. Several companies currently manufacture vegetable squalene. In their paper, the authors wrote: “Squalene has historically been harvested from shark liver oil, which is undesirable for various reasons.” The researchers cite the environmental problems also cited by the Shark Allies, as well as the possibility of pollution that the squalene is contaminating.

A change is possible, but does not mean that it is feasible. “Today there is no suitable alternative option for squalene – research into suitable alternatives is ongoing and will not lead to other options within the timeframe of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the GSK spokesman.

GSK does not make a COVID-19 vaccine, but is developing an adjuvant that will be used in several potential vaccines. “We have confirmed our intention to manufacture 1 billion doses of our pandemic vaccine-adjuvant system in 2021 to support the development of several COVID-19 adjuvant vaccine candidates,” a spokesman said.

Many of the sharks used to make squalene are so-called by-catches. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these animals are accidentally captured. According to GSK, many of the sharks that eventually end up in the pharmaceuticals are not hunted for their livers but are accidentally caught.

Sharks harm against humans

Ms. Brendl believes that sustainable squalene is not possible. Sharks are not a renewable resource, and she believes they are not an ethical source of squalene. “The people who buy it I very much doubt they even know where the sharks in their squalene come from because sharks, shark oil, and squalene are traded all over the world,” she said.

Saving sharks could be an uphill battle. Sharks are not as popular as puppies. According to a 2019 survey by Chapman University, 32.3% of people were afraid of sharks. It is worth noting that sharks do not hunt people.

But when the two species meet, it’s catastrophic.

The number of attacks has increased.

Shark attacks in the United States International Shark Attack File

More and more people are in the water and are attracted to sports like surfing and spear fishing. But the fall and rise of a popular shark food, namely the seals, has brought humans, sharks and seals into the same forest neck, so to speak. Seals were a popular human hunting target until the mid-20th century and were killed to extinction, but the population has made a comeback. And the sharks followed.

While sharks pose a threat to humans, the loss of the sharks from hunting would affect the oceans and their inhabitants. Oceana, an ocean advocacy group, views sharks as apex predators. This means that they will eat a wide variety of animals in the middle of the food pyramid. Your high position and eating habits do three things. It:

  • Keeps the prey population healthy as sharks eat sick or old animals
  • Stop overgrazing by prey fish on kelp and coral reefs
  • Keeps a good balance in the ecosystem

According to researchers, 19% of the world’s coral reefs are lacking sharks. Sharks are hunted for their skin, meat, fins, and organs.

Ms. Brendl said, “I hope that this vaccine, and the squalene campaigns in general, will make people aware that any part of a wildlife that is endangered, any part that is used increases its value and increases the reason why it is to be hunted. “

Sabrina Emms is a science journalist who has worked as a researcher studying the way bones are formed.

Christine Bahls contributed additional reporting.