Squalene, a substance obtained from shark liver oil, is used in vaccine adjuvants. There are other sources to obtain it.

Stock image of a shark.

Squalene, a substance obtained from shark liver oil and used in vaccine adjuvants, it makes these animals potential indirect massive victims of the new coronavirus, given the millions of tons necessary to manufacture those that will protect against Covid-19. Spain has reached 769,188 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and 31,791 deaths.

To obtain a ton of squalene you need to kill between 2,500 and 3,000 sharksStefanie Brendl, director of Shark Allies, the organization that has investigated the matter and warned of the risk run by millions of sharks, points out to the Efe agency.

Brendl, who has been dedicated to the conservation of animals of great importance for the health of the oceans for two decades, says that Shark Allies are not calling for an end to research and development of vaccines so as not to harm shark, but remembering that there are other sources for squalene.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 34 vaccine projects for Covid-19 have reached the clinical evaluation phase in the world and 142 are in a previous phase.

Shark Allies has been able to confirm so far that 17 of those vaccines use adjuvants and five contain shark squalene.

Brendl points out that this organic compound, which mainly used in the cosmetic industry, it can be obtained from plants and bacteria, and asks the pharmaceutical companies that are going to enrich themselves with the Covid-19 vaccines not to think only “about the dollars” but about the planet.

Although it may seem strange, squalene obtained from shark liver oil is cheaper for these companies, which is mainly marketed by Asian countries, than the alternatives. But for humanity and nature, however, “cheap is expensive,” points out this ally of sharks.

Shark Allies had long been studying the consequences on the world population of sharks of the use of squalene by the cosmetic industry when Covid-19 and the research took a new course, according to Brendl.

According to the environmental organization, using sharks as a source of squalene is “Short-sighted, unpredictable and unsustainable results” when there are more effective alternatives that do not endanger a wild animal with a “finite” population that is also threatened for other reasons.

No to animal squalene

Shark Allies has started a campaign on the Change.org platform collecting signatures in support of a petition addressed to regulatory authorities in the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and China, and to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.

The 41,000 signatories so far call for shark squalene to be replaced as soon as possible for which it does not come from animals, that the latter be included in all current and future product tests using that substance and that the large-scale production of non-animal squalene be supported and developed.

“Shark squalene is not a ‘magic’ or unique ingredient. The chemical structure (C30H50) of the compound obtained from shark liver oil is identical to the non-animal alternatives and its efficacy in vaccines should be identical ”, they emphasize.

Shark Allies mention as an example the Californian company that produces squalene from sugar cane and claims to be capable of producing the necessary amount of the compound to make 1 billion doses of vaccines in a month or less.

Large liver animals

The WHO emphasizes on its website that squalene is a component of some adjuvants that are added to vaccines to strengthen the immune response and mentions as an example the flu vaccine (FLUAD, Chiron) which contains 10 milligrams of that compound per dose. Brendl notes that shark liver oil is “very rich and a good moisturizer.”

Sharks have large livers because unlike other fish, they do not have an air chamber inside their body to float and what allows them to do so is the amount of oil produced by the liverexplains the specialist. Some species of shark, such as those in deep sea, whose livers are even larger, are caught only for that oil and not for their meat or their fins.

Shark Allies fear if the need for squalene for vaccines increases their populations may be decimated “year after year” and get to disappear. “Just as we did something to prevent sharks from being caught just for their fins,” highly valued in Asia, “we have to do something for squalene,” says Brendl.