Covid vaccines aren’t comparable to thalidomide scandal
23 September 2021
What was claimed
The length of time it took to discover thalidomide’s dangers proves more time should be spent researching medicines, particularly Covid-19 vaccines.
Thalidomide underwent a very different research and regulation process to Covid-19 vaccines. There is no evidence so far that any of the Covid-19 vaccines in use in the UK are unsafe for pregnant people.
An Instagram post which includes photos of children born with birth defects, appears to compare the thalidomide scandal with the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Other text on the image states that it took five years for the connection between thalidomide, birth defects and miscarriages to be established.
It adds: “Don’t rush science”.
However, the roll-out of thalidomide was significantly different to that of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. From the studies conducted so far, there is no evidence the Covid-19 vaccines cause harm to unborn babies or pregnant women.
In fact, both the UK medicines regulator the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and its adverse drug effects reporting programme (the Yellow Card scheme) exist now because of the thalidomide scandal.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society states: “Due to the thalidomide tragedy, it was recognised that changes to the way in which new medicines were tested and approved required a stricter, more focussed system of medicines regulation.
“It also highlighted the important need for routine monitoring of the safety of medicines by a central body that was independent of the pharmaceutical industry - and so the Y[ellow] C[ard] S[cheme] was introduced.”
As we have written before there are good reasons why the Covid-19 vaccines were developed as quickly as they were. The amount of time it would take to usually licence a drug is limited by funding, manpower and government support, challenges the Covid vaccines have not faced.
Professor Peter Openshaw, professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, told Full Fact: “There is absolutely no reason to draw parallels with thalidomide: vaccines are not drugs, and the whole system of licencing has been completely reformed since that era.
“There has never been as much research on which to base vaccine licensure - it was done very fast because we face a global emergency and almost unlimited resources were put into the studies.”
This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here.
For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as missing context
because it doesn’t explain that thalidomide underwent a very different research and regulation process to Covid-19 vaccines. There is no evidence so far that any of the Covid-19 vaccines in use in the UK are unsafe for pregnant people.
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