Plant-based COVID-19 vaccines are in clinical trials. But are they vegan? It may currently be 'impossible' to produce a vaccine without animal use - so what exactly is a plant-based vaccine? - Media Credit: Adobe. Do not use without permission.

Scientists Say Plant-Based COVID-19 Vaccines Are Faster, Cheaper, And Safer: But Are They Vegan?

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2 Minutes Read

While many people around the world rejoiced as vaccines began testing to fight the deadly COVID-19 virus, there were some who remained critical. One of the reasons for this is because some of them – including the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – are tested on animals. However, plant-based vaccines made from rice, corn, potatoes, or lettuce may be the answer, with some entering the clinical trial phase.

But are they vegan?

Plant-based COVID-19 vaccine

Dubbed a ‘natural alternative’, plant-based vaccines are faster to make, cheaper, and safer, according to scientists. Reports indicate they’re also more effective on the immune system, presenting more antigens.

One of the plant-based COVID-19 vaccines currently under production is by the biopharmaceutical company Medicago, which claims to be a world leader in plant-based vaccine development. It’s currently in phase three of clinical trials, with more than 30,000 people taking part.

Additionally, it’s attracted many vegans and vegetarians in the trial in Argentina, one of the world’s largest meat consumers per capita.

Is the plant-based vaccine vegan?

Global news service, DW News, ran a segment (embedded above) on the news that included an interview with Zacharie LeBlanc, of Queensland University of Technology.

Leblanc confirmed animal cells are usually used in the development of most vaccines. Even though plant-based vaccines do not come from animal cells, all vaccines still go through a process of being tested on animals further down the lines, meaning even plant-based vaccines are not vegan.

‘I wouldn’t say animals are being harmed in the process’, he said however and added he doesn’t think scientists can eliminate animals completely from the process of vaccine development in the near future.

Benefits of plant-based vaccine

The advantage of plants is that their ‘scalability’, LeBlanc adds.

They said: “It’s cheaper because of the scalability if you think about the inputs of growing a plant…it’s visibly a lot cheaper.”

LeBlanc added that it’s also safer. The ‘hurdle’, however, is getting through clinical trials – though a plant-based vaccine could be available ‘in the near future’.

Should vegans accept vaccines tested on animals?

Utilizing plants to cure disease certainly makes sense, but if it still tests on animals, what can vegans do?

The Vegan Society released a statement regarding this last year.

It reads: “The definition of veganism recognizes that it is not always possible or practicable for vegans to avoid participating in animal use, which is particularly relevant to medical situations.

“In the case of COVID-19, vaccination will play a fundamental role in tackling the pandemic and saving lives.

“As there is currently a legal requirement that all vaccines are tested on animals, at this point in time it is impossible to have a vaccine that has been created without animal use.”

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The Author

Emily Baker

Emily is a journalist based in Devon, where she reports on issues affecting local people from politics to the environment. She has also written features on feminism for Polyester Magazine.

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JoeAceJR
JoeAceJR
10 months ago

The covid plant based vaccine was already tested on animals before phase 1 even started, that’s how vaccines work, unless there’s a counter source that states otherwise. Just test the vaccine on the worst of the worst prisoners first instead of innocent animals. Or test on a clump of human cells. Then move onto the trials.

Or just skip right to the trials. If people are willing to take the vaccine before its approved, there is ZERO reason for animal testing. They are already signing up to be injected with something that isn’t even approved yet.

VeganNatureQueen
VeganNatureQueen
10 months ago

I agree 100% JoeAceJR. there are so many alternatives so like wth. I guess the government just wants to annoy us for not partaking in the buying of there animal derived foods and what not, they want there money… but yeah why not test on mass murdering criminals or something. human cells is also a good idea. plus even if it works on animals there bodies are still different from ours and can react differently to there tests the only way to know if it will work on humans is to test it on willing people.

Maggie442
Maggie442
10 months ago

I work in this area. Animals are used not just to test vaccines but for develop them, too. There aren’t ‘alternatives’ per se and the animals are very effective in that role. That said, jt is obviously a moral imperative to move away from their use by funding alternatives research. Vaccines in particular are reprogramming someone’s immune system and unless the recipe is just right you end up making the patient more susceptible to the disease. About half of what gets animal tested would kill a human volunteer so getting volunteers beyond that enthusiastic first wave might be challenging.

Stella
Stella
10 months ago

I was so disappointed when I researched this. My understanding is that they are using a GSK adjuvant which contains squalene from fish.

Stacey
Stacey
10 months ago

These vaccines sadly are not vegan or vegetarian to my knowledge. The information on the adjuvant is here on the GSK website. Says that they use squalene from fish.

“Manufacturing our adjuvant
We have scaled up manufacturing of our pandemic adjuvant across our global network to support the adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccines in development through our collaborations.

Adjuvant ingredients are derived from a number of sources. Research to explore viable alternatives to fish-derived squalene, which is an essential ingredient of our pandemic adjuvant system, is ongoing. However these alternatives are not currently available.”

https://www.gsk.com/en-gb/media/resource-centre/our-contribution-to-the-fight-against-2019-ncov/

Bianca Di Meglio
Bianca Di Meglio
10 months ago

instead of pushing vaccinations govs should push for veganism.

Bettina Rossi
Bettina Rossi
9 months ago

Ms

Bettina Rossi
Bettina Rossi
9 months ago

This is the most opportune moment to

Stella
Stella
9 months ago

I agree with many of these comments… I’m wondering if anyone can please help with a query? Since this one has fish (or possibly shark) derived ingredients – does anyone know where novavax get the ingredients for their matrix-m adjuvant? They say tree saponin which is fine – but where do they get the “cholesterol and phospholipid”? I can’t find this anywhere. Does anyone know? (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5899102/). Thanks so much <3

Lulu
Lulu
7 months ago

Something is not being considered here. (Apart from no vaccine ever being needed when there are more than enough alternatives) – injecting a substance is different to ingesting or applying topically. Breathe air and you are fine. Inject it and you get pain; if it enters the bloodstream, death. Injecting substances is linked to allergies and anaphylaxis – hence peanut butter allergy. Start injecting plant substances and you create an entire generation of people allergic to natural foods. This is insanity. We need to look less at new vaccines and more at what actually makes people healthy.

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