Corners were cut and it’s the ‘next Thalidomide’ – expert blasts dangerous anti-vax myths
THE UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and experts have urged the public ignore anti-vax myths.
Theories have started circulating as to how scientists could have produced the vaccine in such a short period of time and people have accused experts of "cutting corners".
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One expert has blasted these dangerous myths, which include sceptics claiming that the jab is the "next Thalidomide".
The editor of independent fact-checking charity Full Fact, Tom Phillips said the authorities and vaccine makers need to garner the trust of the public.
The Pfizer jab, which is 95 per cent effective and developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech – is safe for use, health regulators say.
As soon as the news broke yesterday social media was inundated with anti-vax theories and sentiment.
Within hours both "Thalidomide" and "Bill Gates" began trending on Twitter.
Tom said it is important to look for the source before sharing on any claim about the vaccine and added: "Ask to see the evidence. It's always worth spending a little bit of time before you share it on to check if it is true."
Here are some of the eight myths surrounding the vaccine – and why they don't hold up.
1. The regulators cut corners to test the vaccine quickly
Since the virus began circulating earlier this year, scientists have been working around the clock to find a suitable vaccine and treatments.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has been able to test the vaccine at a faster pace than usual due to the fact that clinical trials over-lapped.
Data was examined in tandem – whereas usually it would be done separately.
The safety checks were still the same – and this was something the experts couldn't compromise on.
June Raine, head of regulator MHRA, said: "That doesn't mean that any corners have been cut, none at all."
Dr Raine said experts had worked "round the clock, carefully, methodically poring over tables and analyses and graphs on every single piece of data".
Covid Vaccine: Who, When and How?
Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, said the following about the new Covid vaccine:
Who? "The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation have clearly recommended NHS should make sure those first offered are those at highest risk. In practice, that means starting with the over 80s, as well as people in care homes as well as staff looking after them.
When? "In the new year, we will be extending that to many more people across the country. Although we are the first health service in the world to get vaccinating supplies from the manufacturer are phased.
"The bulk of this vaccination program will take place in the period January through to March or April for the at risk members of the population. Since you need two jabs… typically 21 days apart… that means we’ve got to reserve the second dose for those getting the first dose in December."
How? The NHS chief said the vaccine "is logistically complicated".
He said: "We have to move it around the country in a carefully controlled way. It also comes in packs of 975 people’s doses. You can't at this point just distribute it to every individual GP or pharmacy. Next week 50 hospital hubs across England will start offering the vaccine to over 80s, carehome staff and those identified by GVI.
"The hospital will get in touch with you, you don’t need to do anything yourself."
He added that the NHS intends for vaccination centres to rollout the jab as more become available in the months to come.
2. The Covid vaccine is another repetition of the Thalidomide scandal
Thalidomide is a drug that many people distrust after it was marketed as a treatment for morning sickness in pregnant women in the 1950s and 60s.
It later caused birth defects – but experts say it cannot becompared to a vaccine.
Thalidomide went into the bloodstream whereas the Covid vaccine gives antibodies to fight off the virus.
Thalidomide was never properly tested nor did it go through the rigorous monitoring system that the Covid vaccine has.
A consultant for the Thalidomide Society said the comparisons were "insulting".
Dr Ruth Blue, consultant for the Thalidomide Society, said it was "a bit insulting that suddenly Thalidomide gets remembered after all these years when it suits anti-vaxxers to have something to compare to".
She added: "The outcome of Thalidomide completely changed the way drugs are tested and are passed."
What was Thalidomide?
Thalidomide was at the centre of one of the biggest drug scandals in history when it was prescribed to pregnant women to combat morning sickness in the late 1950s.
The drug was withdrawn in 1961, after babies often suffered missing or deformed limbs and extreme shortening of arms and legs.
It also caused malformations of the eyes and ears, genitals, heart, kidneys and digestive tract.
When it was made available on the NHS, the drug hadn't been through the rigorous testing process that all drugs are now subjected to.
In 2010, the government has expressed its "sincere regret" and "deep sympathy" to the victims of the scandal and set up a fund to help victims.
3. Bill Gates is using the vaccine to secretly microchip the world
Mr Gates' charity works in vaccine development and the Microsoft founder is often subject to conspiracy theories.
There is no evidence that Mr Gates or anyone else is trying to microchip people through the use of a vaccine and Mr Gates has denied these claims.
The theory originates from a study that was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which states the team developed an "approach to encode medical history on a patient" by including a small amount of dye with a vaccine.
However, it never experimented on humans and did not include any hardware technology, such as microchips.
Earlier this month police had to break up protesters who had gathered outside the headquarters of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in London.
Piers Corbyn was one of the people at the forefront of the protests.
4. One of the first participants in the vaccine trial has died
This is false and Dr Elisa Granato is still alive.
Dr Granato was one of the first participants in human trials of the AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine.
The false claims of her death prompted her to tweet that she was "very much alive" and "having a cup of tea".
5. Vaccines alter your DNA
The vaccines do not alter your DNA. They comprise mRNA that gives the body instructions on how to make proteins on the surface of the virus.
6. The government is passing law so that they can't be held responsible
Another myth is that the government will pass a law which will mean that if the vaccine goes wrong when it is distributed – then they cannot be held to account.
This is incorrect – the Government held a consultation on whether it should change the rules around unlicensed vaccines.
Unlicensed is not the same as untested anda manufacturer would still be liable if it did not meet safety standards, or if it was defective.
7. The Oxford vaccine contains parts of aborted foetus
Facebook has been awash with this myth after a user falsely claimed the vaccine uses MRC-5 cell lines, which were "originally developed from research deriving lung tissue of a 14-week-old aborted Caucasian male foetus".
AstraZeneca said its vaccine was not developed using MRC-5 cell lines but does use a different cell strain, taken from a female foetus aborted in the 1970s.
The cells do not make it into the final jab – so they would not be injected into a patient.
They are cell lines that have been grown in a laboratory from a primary cell culture originally taken from a foetus.
8. The speed it was created in means it's not safe
This is incorrect, the global need for a vaccine has meant that experts everywhere have been working all hours to develop a jab.
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam explained: "With Covid vaccines it is clear that we have a global public health emergency on our hands and that even waiting five years for a Covid vaccine if we don't have to is completely the wrong thing to do."
He said this meant the "shackles had come off in terms of investing", and governments such as the UK had invested hundreds of millions of pounds "to try and speed it up".
The standards for safety and effectiveness have not, however, changed due to the speed of production and testing – and it is still subject to independent regulation.
In the UK's case, this comes from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which approved the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday.
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