By: GIANNA LUGLIANI
The impending release of a possible Covid-19 vaccine is met with the unfortunate toll it will have on shark populations worldwide. A global distribution of this vaccine could be detrimental as environmental conservationists warn that over half a million sharks will have to be killed in order to mass produce it at such a fast rate and to such a large population. With such a high demand for quickly finding a solution to the corona crisis, experts are afraid that if squalene is found useful in one effective vaccine, then other less harmful methods will not even be considered for testing.
Squalene is a natural oil that is found in shark livers. It helps sharks regulate their buoyancy levels while swimming deep in the oceans, but it is often harvested by humans to be used in various skincare and medicinal products. “Squalene is found in cosmetic products including sunscreens, anti-aging creams, lotions, hair conditioners, deodorants, eye shadows, lip balms, lipstick, and face cleansers. It is also used in vaccines and in some have medicinal pills and supplements.” It is used in these products because it helps prevent dehydration in the skin. Because of this vast array of its uses in things that are high in demand, humans already capture and kill 2.7 million sharks annually for their squalene to use in beauty products. With the added weight of the necessary COVID-19 vaccine being added, the death toll could rise to about 3.2 million total shark deaths. While it is extremely important to find a vaccine that will help fight off Coronavirus, it would also be highly beneficial to find a method of doing so that doesn’t create such a negative impact on another species.
As of right now, there are 193 possible vaccines being tested in clinics for effectiveness, and at least five of those contain squalene. “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 and founder Stefanie Brendl explains. Squalene is typically used in vaccines to help boost the overall immune response to medicines. This means that if one of the five vaccines containing squalene is proven to be the most effective, then no other options will really be tested, and the shark population will suffer at the expense of human medicine.
While the estimate of the vaccine to cause half a million shark deaths seems shocking, it may be an overestimate. The Shark Allies founder also told the public that “the 500,000 mark was at the high end of projected estimates and did not account for a number of limitations and variables set forth in the research,” proposing that the original headline may have been a little misleading. Although the statistic may have been a little exaggerated, it still got its point across to raise awareness of the effects a Covid-19 vaccine could have on other populations other than just humans. If humans keep selfishly exploiting animal populations at such high levels with no disdain for how it will affect the environment, it could cause so many species to become endangered if the trend continues. Because of this, hopefully one of the other 188 probable vaccines will be more successful than the ones containing squalene so that a mass killing of more sharks can be avoided.