N.J. Horseshoe Crabs Play Critical Role in Coronavirus Vaccines

The horseshoe crab plays a vital role in developing a COVID-19 vaccine, with tons of doses expected to be manufactured worldwide in the next several years.

What We Know:

  • The crab’s unique blue blood has been used to develop and produce nearly all injectable medicines and vaccines along with medical devices in the U.S. and much of the world for four decades.

  • The crab’s blood is hypersensitive to endotoxins, a bacteria that can enter the bloodstream through injections. This makes it the perfect testing ground, according to scientists, to see if a coronavirus vaccine is harmful to people.
  • In the 1960s, scientists created a test using horseshoe crab blood which eventually changed into the industry standard to guarantee that injectable substances won’t harm people.
  • Laboratories that bleed the crabs state they will be able to supply enough crab blood, since it is anticipated it will be the most massive vaccination push, without increasing the number of crabs taken from the ocean. Once the crabs are bled, they are returned to the ocean alive.
  • Conservation groups mention that they will be keeping a close watch on whether there is an impact on the crab population, whose diminishing numbers a decade ago created a decrease in the bird population and led to a ban on commercial fishing for the crab.
  • Horseshoe crabs are about 450 million-years-old and are often referred to as a “living fossil”.
  • Despite the crabs being returned to the ocean after being bled, conservationists have been advocating for the U.S. to allow synthetic choices rather than using crab blood. They could limit or possibly eliminate the need to take crabs out of the ocean all together.

Gov. Jon Corzine signed a law that banned harvesting horseshoe crabs, which were in demand as bait for eel and conch fishers. Although, an exception was made to the law to allow the taking of horseshoe crabs just to extract their blood for biomedical purposes and the crabs are let go back into the ocean.