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Do we really want a COVID-19 vaccine if it's made of horseshoe crab blood?

Discussion in 'Wildlife & Nature Conservation' started by birdsandbats, 22 Nov 2020.

  1. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    In the US, vaccines are composed largely of Horseshoe Crab blood. These crabs are captured from the wild and have a third of their blood drained. They are released after this, but most don't survive and the ones that do produce less eggs. Will the populations of Horseshoe Crabs and the birds that depend on their eggs for food be able to survive the demand for the COVID vaccine?:

    How the Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine Jeopardizes East Coast Shorebirds
     
  2. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    That's not quite how it works. To keep things very simple - an extract from horseshoe crab blood is used to check for bacterial contamination of products/substances across the biomedical industry. Synthetic alternatives are not yet widely enough available that they eliminate the need to bleed live horseshoe crabs. Mortality rates are not clear but although a significant number die it is thought that most horseshoe crabs do survive when returned to the sea, however, as you state - there are long term effects on their health and fertility. Because of the enormous scale of production of injectable substances and sterile products associated with the vaccine, more horseshoe crab blood will be required. This will likely have a knock-on effect throughout the ecosystem and into the future.
     
  3. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    It is quite worrying and ironic too I think. One of the worlds most ancient living organisms being overexploitated by one of the worlds youngest, our health as a species coming before that of the ocean and countless others.

    All I can say is that I hope the biomedical industry do adhere strongly to ethics regarding the use of the horseshoe crab but perhaps I am way too idealistic in that regard.

    Afterall, the axolotl has been a model organism in biomedical research labs for a long time and as far as I am aware despite the vast sums of money made from this research and contributions to human medicine nothing has been put into efforts to conserve the species in the wild.
     
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  4. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I think this is a key observation that is noted in the article, which makes the title of this thread somewhat problematic in my opinion. The issue isn't that vaccine development necessitates harvesting horseshoe crab blood - the issue is that the synthetic substitute is being held up by U.S. government bureaucracy. Absolutely this is a problem, but to me it seems like one of regulatory processes rather than a simple trade-off between humans and wildlife.

    In any case, as serious a conservation issue as this is... if the synthetic version doesn't get approved soon, I believe the consequences of not developing a COVID-19 vaccine are too great for this issue to take precedent.
     
  5. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Out of curiosity, what societal consequences do you believe would emerge from not developing a COVID-19 vaccine?
     
  6. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Millions of human lives lost, millions more with lasting or permanent lung and heart impairments, and quite possibly economic stagnation or collapse that lasts for several years or even decades... and that's just off the top of my head.
     
  7. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    I don't disagree with that.

    However, I would point out that we still do not have a clear enough picture of COVID-19 or the long-term health impacts that has emerged yet through all the static.

    The scientific findings are still coming in regarding this issue and it will likely be a long time yet before we can actually see the bigger picture.
     
    Last edited: 22 Nov 2020
  8. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Clear enough to know that a vaccine is absolutely vital to saving lives and allowing a transition back to a functioning economy.
     
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  9. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    I would agree (and to be clear I'm in favour of finding a viable vaccine and saving lives) but I would caution against that coming at a massive ecological expense.

    The difficulty is that clinical trials of vaccines are being fast tracked and we know that some of these vaccines will be imperfect at best and others useless.

    I would hate to see us devastate marine ecosystems and precipitate the extinction of a living fossil in haste for the search for a vaccine that may be unlikely to work anyway.
     
  10. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I don't know what all of the world's vaccine trials have looked like, but the ones being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech have been over 90% effective at this stage of development.

    The extent to which this would devastate a marine ecosystem or whether it would doom horseshoe crabs to extinction is unclear and not yet quantified.

    To be honest, I'm a little concerned about the stance you are sharing here. I might be reading too much into it, but there is a widespread flood of misinformation about COVID-19 and the safety/efficacy of vaccination in my country; therefore, skeptical conversation about the merits of developing a vaccine are a bit alarming to me.
     
  11. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    To be clear, you are definitely 100 % reading too much into it and have no reason for being concerned ;).

    I am very much pro-science, pro-vaccines and not at all interested in all of the anti-vaxx conspiracy type theories profilerating on social media (I don't have facebook, twitter or any of the rest of that social media nonsense).

    My point that I was trying to make above is merely one that as a conservationist / conservation biologist I believe that we should not devastate a marine ecosystem and potentially precipitate the extinction of a species that is a living fossil in our haste to find a viable vaccine.

    That is to say I believe in the precautionary principle when it comes to the use of biodiversity and I believe this has to be done sustainably. No ifs or buts in my opinion it absolutely has to be done sustainably.
     
    Last edited: 22 Nov 2020
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  12. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I can agree with that, particularly because in this case there is an obvious alternative: fast-tracking approval of the synthetic substitute. But ignoring that caveat, I think there is a large philosophical discussion to be had about trade-offs between protecting humans from existential threats and protecting the ecosystem from over-exploitation. Getting too into that here would absolutely derail this thread (which I'm not inclined to do) but it's food for thought.
     
  13. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Complicated ethical / philosophical issue indeed and I think it is definitely food for though but I would agree that it could derail the thread so lets agree to hold it there for the moment.
     
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