The whole world is facing a huge disaster nowadays because of the spread of a disease called COVID-19. COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak is literally shutting the whole world down, because any outside activity is heavily limited nowadays to prevent transmission.
Since the cause of this disease is virus, we can only beat it with vaccination. Vaccination itself is not a ‘real’ medicine. It works by introducing tamed viruses into human bodies so that our bodies can develop an antibody to fight the untamed virus.
Researchers all around the world are still trying to develop the most effective vaccine because we are already in an emergency situation. However, up to nowadays, there is still no coronavirus vaccine that has been proven effective to fight the virus.
During this fight, suddenly a strange news emerged: scientists are planning to kill hundreds of thousands sharks to develop the vaccine. What do the shark have to do with our coronavirus vaccine? Here in this article we will explain it.
First time reading this, you might think, “Wait, what’s wrong with all this coronavirus and sharks?”. And that’s natural, because not so many people can think about the relationship between those two things, let alone about how those two things can get along.
Here we tell you about the thing: sharks are thought to have the ingredient of coronavirus vaccine. The ingredient we are talking about is known as squalene, an organic compound originally obtained from shark liver oil.
Squalene is used as additional ingredient in the coronavirus vaccine because researchers consider it can boost effectiveness. The organic compound has the ability to create stronger immune response for patients, thus the tamed virus will not go out of control.
Shark is the main source for commercially produced squalene, because only from shark we can get the highest purity of it, 99,99%. That fact alone is enough for industry players to ‘harvest’ sharks from the ocean to get it.
Of course, this is a subject for protests by environmentalists, since killing living animals to harvest its liver oil alone is not humane practice. Let alone when the practice is done without concerning about vulnerable shark populations. In short, we are going to trade our lives with sharks. Do we really need to do that?
Now let’s talk about raw calculation of how many sharks need to be killed for this project. To get a ton of squalene, it is required to kill around 2500 to 3000 sharks, and to get enough amount of squalene to vaccinate everyone on earth, we need a lot of squalene.
Shark Allies, a conservation group focusing on protecting shark population, calculated that around 1000 tons of the organic compounds is needed to vaccinate the whole population once. It means we need to kill more than 250,000 sharks for just one shot of vaccine for each of us.
But just one shot of vaccine is not enough, apparently. Since the plan is winding around giving everyone at least two rounds of vaccination. From that, we can simply calculate that we will need to kill half a million sharks for an effort to fight this global pandemic.
There is no way that ‘harvesting’ that many sharks from our ocean is acceptable. Sharks are top part of ocean food chain, which means their presence is needed to control lower parts of the food chain. Without their presence, smaller carnivore will thrive out of control.
In such scenario, it will threaten organisms located even lower in ocean food chain. Such chain effect can cause mass extinction in the ocean, and as a result it will affect land organisms too because we are all connected in nature.
Alternatives To Sharks Squalene
The question is, do we really need to ‘harvesting’ shark for its squalene? As mentioned above, shark squalene’s purity reaches 99.99% in nature. That level of purity is a good thing for vaccine developers because it would not require so much work to get pure squalene.
But what the companies do not tell us is, we can also get almost pure squalene from other sources. In example. Olive can also produce squalene with almost similar purity, a journal published in BioMed Research International explained.
“Commercially available methods for squalene extraction from olive oil yield to a vegetable squalene with around 97.5% purity,” as explained in the article. And this is the base used by Shark Allies to protest the plan to kill half a million sharks for this purpose.
“Harvesting something from a wild animal is never going to be sustainable, especially if it’s a top predator that doesn’t reproduce in huge numbers,” Stefanie Brendl, founder of Shark Allies, told The Telegraph.
“We are asking that sustainably sourced squalene is used in all non-critical applications and where the alternative is just as effective as shark squalene, and that all future testing of adjuvanted vaccines is giving plant-derived sources equal consideration,” she continued.
Already In Danger
If we can also get almost pure squalene from plants, such as olive, so why bother killing that many sharks whose existence is important to ocean environment? The answer is probably because shark has the closest-to-pure squalene quality.
Extracting pure squalene that can straightforwardly be used as ingredient is not easy and cheap. That’s why, choosing a source with more purity is an easier and cheaper process. This is also the reason why sharks have been hunted for its liver oil since a long time ago.
Millions of sharks have been hunted annually for many purposes, such as for its fins and its liver oil. The problem is, hunting more shark for its squalene while we can get it from alternative sources is not acceptable.
“There’s so many unknowns of how big and how long this pandemic might go on, and then how many versions of it we have to go through, that if we continue using sharks, the numbers of sharks taken for this product could be really high, year after year after year,” Brendl stated.
Brendl said that we don’t even need to bother using shark, since we can get it sustainably from plants like olive. Sharks are not really needed in finding the vaccine for COVID-19. “We are in no way trying to hinder or slow down the development of a COVID-19 vaccine or any other critical treatment that is needed to protect humanity from illness,” she explained.