Squalene in the Covid vaccine

Squalene in the Covid vaccine

The pairing of squalene and Covid-19 vaccine is talking about itself. The ingredient, obtained from the liver of sharks, plays an important role as an adjuvant in some versions of the vaccine being tested. Environmentalists are targeting the repercussions that its large-scale use could have on populations of large marine animals, already severely compromised by habitat loss and intensive fishing.


What is squalene

Squalene is an organic substance widely found in nature. Technically a triterpene, it is particularly abundant in shark liver , hence its name. It is also found in humans and in many species of animals and plants , for which it carries out a fundamental work of biosynthesis. 

In the human body, squalene is one of the most important constituents of sebum , an oily substance that protects and keeps the outermost layer of the epidermis hydrated.

In the plant world, squalene abounds in olive oil , peanut oil, rice bran, amaranth seeds and wheat germ . 

Squalene is included in the document drawn up by the Ministry of Health ” Other nutrients and other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect ” and in particular in the ” Other substances without defined maximum daily intake ” list. Although still to be ascertained from a scientific point of view, the property attributed to squalene, thanks to which this substance is inserted in supplements, is the presumed ability to protect DNA, proteins and lipids from oxidative stress . 

It is used as an adjuvant in medicine, in the preparation of vaccines : it is used, in fact, to increase the effectiveness of the immunization process, as it is considered capable of generating a stronger immune response. 

Possible use in the anti-Covid vaccine

Squalene has been used for flu shots for years. In this period, the discussion around its use is connected to Covid, given that it is an ingredient foreseen in the preparation of some of the vaccines proposed to fight the pandemic . 

What is tempting is the amplifying effect – attributed to squalene – of the efficacy of any drug, which would allow a saving in the amount of antigen used . As reported by the WHO (World Health Organization), squalene effectively becomes an adjuvant that strengthens the immune response in emulsion with some surfactants. For this reason, its use “it has been approved in health agencies in several European states “and” has been added to increase the efficacy of several experimental vaccines, including vaccines under development against influenza and malaria pandemics . “

British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which already uses squalene made from shark liver, said in May that it will produce one billion doses of this adjuvant for potential use in coronavirus vaccines . ” The use of the adjuvant is of particular importance in a pandemic context because can reduce the amount of antigen required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced and available to more people “let the colossus know . ” Squalene is an essential ingredient of our adjuvant method “.

The concern of environmentalists

In contrast, there is the concern of environmentalists. At the center of the crosshairs is, in particular, the impact that the decision to use squalene for the preparation of the anti-Covid vaccine would have on shark populations . 

To date, the squalene used in the medical and cosmetic fields is obtained from the liver of these animals already at high risk, and the numbers estimated to cover the need for vaccines around the world could compromise their conservation. 

The Californian organization  Shark Allies has calculated that – faced with the need to kill 3,000 sharks to extract a ton of squalene – if the world population received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine containing liver oil,some 250,000 sharks are expected to be slaughtered. 

The number would increase to half a million if, as researchers believe likely, two doses were needed to immunize the global population.

 Collecting squalene from a wild animal is never sustainable, especially if it is an exceptional predator that does not reproduce in large quantities ,” explained  Stefanie Brendl , founder and executive director of Shark Allies. “ There are so many unknowns about this . pandemic and how long it will last that if we used sharks, the number of those killed could be very high “.

To avoid further threatening these animals, already strained by habitat loss and intensive fishing, scientists are testing an alternative to animal squalene, a synthetic version made from fermented sugar cane . 

Moreover, the battle for obtaining a cruelty-free version of squalene is a battle carried out for some time  by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Aligning with the principles that support it, Shark Allies has now launched a petition to ask regulatory agencies and all manufacturers of vaccines, treatments and supplements to support and develop large-scale production of non-animal squalene., making the product a renewable and sustainable resource for the new standard of the pharmaceutical industry. 

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