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Terpenes in Novavax and Gavi vaccines, from tree bark and shark livers


What does shark liver oil, a vaccine adjuvant by GlaxoSmithKline restricted for use in vape pens, have in common with a tree bark extract used in Novavax and root beer? The answer is terpenes.

Squalene is a triterpene derived from shark liver oil that the state of Oregon restricted for use in vape pens. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is now utilizing squalene for 200 million doses of vaccine. Gavi is offering GSK’s recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine adjuvanted with squalene.

GSK did note the importance of finding alternatives to squalene but has failed to find an option. Yet, they have used AS03, the squalene-containing adjuvant, since the swine flu epidemic in 2009. Then, in 2013, Reuters reported on a spike in narcolepsy cases in children caused by AS03. (1) Essentially, squalene is an immunogenetic byproduct of the fishing industry that allows vaccine manufacturers to thin out their products; thinning out the herd immunity.

terpenes in vaccines
Soapbark extract is the primary ingredient in QS-21, a vaccine adjuvant used in Novavax.

Terpenes in Novavax, tree bark in a vaccine

Novavax succeeded in avoiding shark oil for the adjuvant in their recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine. A more ethical approach is taken by Novavax, in that they extract terpenes from trees as opposed to sharks for their vaccine. Instead of squalene, they use quillaia extract taken from soapbark trees.

Soapbark, Quillaja Saponaria extract is rich in triterpene-filled saponins. Despite their differences, the respective terpene extracts used by Novavax and GSK do contribute cellular immunity to the vaccine.

Triterpenes in vaccines and thrombosis

Like the adeno virus vaccine offered by Astrazeneca, though, Novavax might deliver a mild risk for thrombosis. Terpenes are natural and the one’s in some plants are mostly beneficial. Safety, however, largely depends on dose. With that said, the triterpene extract used in Novavax has led to at least one confirmed case of thrombosis. According to the FDA, the man was over the age of 60 and suffered a non-fatal episode of the blood condition — after drinking root beer.

We postulate that quillaia might be a potential cause of thrombocytopenia, as there was no other apparent etiology in the patient, and because of quillaia’s reported toxicities and immune system interactions. Conclusion: Quillaia, used as a foaming agent in QV Root Beer,TM may be implicated in this case of thrombocytopenia.

Hachelroad, FDA.

Incredibly, the FDA deleted this archive from their website while the Novavax vaccine was under review in other parts of the world. This means that a plant extract containing a random mix of terpenoids, known to cause thrombosis, is used as an ingredient in a mandated drug. Furthermore, the manufacturer will not be liable for injuries that occur since the drug is considered a vaccine. Meanwhile, the FDA still refuses to authorize cannabis as a medicine.

Shark drinking a beer mural by Anthony Zito, photo by Scott Beale | Laughing Squid.


  1. Kelland, K. 2013. Insight: GSK vaccine ingredient scrutinized for narcolepsy clues. Reuters.


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