Half a million sharks to save the world - is it worth it?

Shark Allies claim half a million sharks will be killed to produce a coronavirus vaccine when olives could be sacrificed instead.

Tags: Vaccine
Y Rabinovitz ,

A bite or a jab - which do you prefer?
A bite or a jab - which do you prefer?
Credit: Thinkstock

Which comes first – a shark, or a human? For most people it’s a no-brainer, unless you’re a member of Shark Allies.

This non-profit organization has come up with the figure of half a million sharks to save the world from its current pandemic. To be more precise, they allege that 500 thousand sharks will lose their lives (unless they manage to intervene) in order to produce the hoped-for coronavirus vaccine that billions are being invested in and billions are waiting for with bated (or baited) breath.

Is it a worthwhile trade-off?

According to Shark Allies (as quoted by the Miami Herald), there’s no need to make the trade-off in the first place. They claim that there are several inanimate substitutes for their deep-water friends – such as yeast, sugar cane, or olive oil – and that using sharks may seem like a good idea in the short run but that in the long run, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Why sharks? Shark liver contains something of great interest to scientists – a substance called squalene, which is used as an adjuvant (that is, something that enhances an immune response) after being emulsified. Squalene is already in fairly wide use for a variety of purposes, including in skin creams, lip balms, and in Scandinavian folk medicine to treat all manner of ailments from surface wounds to cancer to infertility.

Its most interesting use, however, is undoubtedly in the vaccine industry, where it has been a key feature of several vaccines since 1997. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes its use in vaccines for influenza (around 10mg per dose) and notes that it has also been used in vaccinations against malaria. They describe how around 22 million doses of a flu vaccine containing squalene have been administered over the last two decades with no severe adverse events associated, and that these squalene-containing vaccines have even been tested on infants and neonates “without evidence of safety concerns” (though one might want to question the sanity of parents donating their infants for the purpose of squalene research).

Shark Allies claim that around three million sharks are already being killed every year, and that if tens or hundreds of thousands more are killed in order to produce a coronavirus vaccine, the shark population may never recover. Their online petition (signed so far by an underwhelming 13,000 people) states that, “Using sharks in Covid-19 vaccines is short-sighted, unpredictable, and unsustainable,” and that “using such a finite resource for a product that will have to be made for billions of people, continuously for years to come, is impractical.”

They insist that “there are better alternatives” although those alternatives are more costly and time-consuming to extract. However, many of us may be relieved and even delighted to find out that there is a positive side to the existence of sharks and that “rescued from the jaws of death” might just become a more literal expression of the truth.