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Up to half-a-million sharks could be slaughtered to save the world from coronavirus, conservationists fear.
An ingredient in some Covid-19 vaccines under development is squalene which comes from sharks' livers.
Already more than three million of the sea predators are killed each year for their liver oil which is used in cosmetics.
Conservationists fear if squalene is found to help combat the virus it could threaten the world's global shark population.
It is used in flu vaccines as part of an adjuvant – an ingredient that makes them more effective and creates a greater immune response.
Brit pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has said it will manufacture a billion doses of its adjuvant for potential use in Covid-19 vaccines.
Around 3,000 sharks are needed to make one ton of squalene.
Estimates from US-based group Shark Allies suggest immunising everyone in the world with one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine containing squalene would require around 250,000 sharks.
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This doubles to half a million if two doses are required, as researchers say is likely.
Many of the species rich in squalene – such as gulper and basking sharks – are already classed as vulnerable and could become endangered.
Shark Allies' founder and executive director Stefanie Brendl said: "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.
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"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.''
Scientists are testing a synthetic version – made from fermented sugar cane – in a bid to avoid an ocean cull.
But it has not yet been approved by regulators.
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