Upwards of half a million sharks are facing death because of the race to create a Coronavirus vaccine, and at least one conservation group is calling for change.
Why, you ask, would a coronavirus vaccine be a threat to sharks? Well, inside the liver of sharks is an oily substance called squalene that’s used mainly in cosmetics. It’s also used, however, in a handful of adjuvants in some vaccines. Adjuvants, which, if all goes well, increase a person’s immune response to a vaccine, have been used for nearly a century. There are different kinds of adjuvants, but the ones that use squalene include a whole host of coronaviruses — like SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV — so it makes sense that squalene would be used in a COVID-19 vaccine. But hoo boy, would that ever be bad for sharks. Now, to be clear, no one is calling for anyone to stop working towards a vaccine or even to stop using a squalene adjuvant. They’re asking that vaccine manufacturers get their squalene from somewhere other than inside a shark’s liver.