The current coronavirus pandemic has been detrimental to populations around the globe. There are currently over 150 vaccines being tested worldwide, a fact that provides hope to many populations; however, vaccine research is coming at a price as several animal populations suffer, including mink, sharks, and monkeys. Below are three of the biggest impacts on animals from COVID vaccine research.
Impact on Mink
On November 5, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced that Denmark would exterminate the country’s entire mink population following the transmission of a new, antibody-resistant strain of COVID from the animals to 12 humans. There are currently more than 1,000 functioning mink farms in Denmark with nearly 17 million mink in total. The country plans to cull all 17 million mink in the coming weeks to prevent further transmission of the new coronavirus strain, which poses a threat to the effectiveness of Denmark’s prior research relating to potential vaccines.
Although this is the largest coronavirus-related mink culling thus far, it is by no means the first. In July, several positive cases resulted in the culling of 100,000 minks in Spain’s Aragón province and tens of thousands of minks in the Netherlands. It is currently unknown why mink are able to catch and spread the virus. Danish officials say that studies are underway.
Impact on Sharks
Shark advocates are concerned that pharmaceutical companies will drastically reduce the current shark population in favor of collecting squalene, an oily substance most found in shark livers that increase the efficacy of vaccines. The oil is frequently used as a moisturizing component in various cosmetics, but vaccine makers use it as an adjuvant: an agent that produces a stronger immune response and increases the likelihood of the vaccine working. Not all companies racing towards the vaccine are using squalene, and some are using the harder to come by plant-based squalene from olive oil and other sources, but an estimate from shark advocacy group Shark Allies reveals that up to half a million sharks could be harvested to produce enough squalene to vaccinate all of America.
A more realistic estimate from Catherine Macdonald, who specializes in marine conservation biology and ecology at the University of Miami, concludes that around 360,000 sharks would produce enough squalene, should one of these vaccines become the frontrunner in the coming months.
“Some fisheries associated with squalene production are targeting deep-sea sharks… We know that deep-sea environments are evolved with very low natural levels of disturbance, so any time we are having meaningful effects on deep-sea populations, we know less about them, and we’re less able to detect the effects we’re having,” Macdonald explained in an interview with Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald.
Impact on Monkeys
Typically, vaccines go through multiple rounds of animal testing before being approved for human trials. The last phase of animal testing is usually in primate populations since monkeys’ immune responses are incredibly similar to those found in humans. With so many vaccines progressing through trial rounds, America is experiencing a shortage of test monkeys, which presents challenges to producing an effective vaccine in a timely manner.
Dr. Skip Bohm, who is the associate director and chief veterinary medical officer at the Tulane National Primate Research Center, explained that “We’ve always been in a state where we were always very close to the level of production to meeting the demand for research, and that has been the status for several years. When the COVID pandemic came about, that just pressed us even further.”
We hope this information on the impacts on animals from COVID vaccine research is educational for you.
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