Monday, October 18, 2021
HomeCOVID-19We need a Covid champion to defy Big Pharma like the thalidomide...

We need a Covid champion to defy Big Pharma like the thalidomide heroine

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IN 1960, Frances Oldham Kelsey prevented thousands of American babies from facing a life of severe disability.  

A medical officer with the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), Kelsey refused to buckle under relentless pressure from the pharmaceutical company Merrell to approve the drug thalidomide for use as a sedative and, off-label, as a treatment for morning sickness.  

From 1957, the drug had been used in Europe to ease extreme nausea in the early stages of pregnancy. But by 1961, mounting reports from concerned doctors revealed devastating birth defects in the babies of women who had taken thalidomide.   

Determined to break into the lucrative American drug market, Merrell had claimed stringent testing showed the drug to be safe as well as efficacious.  

Kelsey, however, was suspicious of incomplete data and the omission of tests on the drug’s prolonged use and refused to give her approval. Despite harassment and intimidation by the company – ‘most of the things they called me you wouldn’t print’ – Kelsey had remained resolute.

Today, as the Covid agenda aims to vaccinate every man, woman and child, minimising, or ignoring, often fatal side-effects, we need a Frances Kelsey to say: ‘No.’ Or even: ‘Not yet.’  Despite some courageous voices within the medical community speaking out at great personal cost, no influential figure has voiced the level of dissent needed to halt this programme. 

Medical advances have, undeniably, delivered life-enhancing and life-saving treatments. Yet countless lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry demonstrate that medicine can have an iatrogenic (illness-causing), as well as a therapeutic, effect. In the US alone, billions of dollars are paid annually in damages by pharmaceutical companies. 

The industry has sought to temper such negative perceptions by cultivating a philanthropic image, portraying itself as a benevolent entity driven by altruism rather than a competitive industry whose investors salivate at ever-increasing share prices.

Despite these endeavours, it is astonishing that a large proportion of the public have failed to be concerned that drug companies which have been fined astronomical sums in multiple lawsuits have been granted liability immunity on Covid vaccines. With pharmaceutical firms typically afforded limited liability protection, this indemnity has been described as ‘very rare.’ 

Should we be surprised at the lack of public suspicion?  The NHS has been elevated to such a degree that any condemnation of this behemoth is considered blasphemy. A 2020 Ipsos MORI poll revealed that more than 90 per cent of Britons trusted doctors and nurses ‘to tell the truth.’ 

Yet medics may be untruthful, or unaware of the full facts behind the medicine they prescribe. UK doctors believed thalidomide could be given ‘with complete safety to pregnant women and nursing mothers without adverse effect on mother or child’, yet it was later acknowledged that no tests were done involving pregnant women.

The effect of Covid vaccines on fertility and the unborn child are unknown. However, more than 30,000 women have, at present, reported changes in their menstrual cycle post-vaccination.  

The vice-president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists stated: ‘We support calls for more research to understand why women may be experiencing changes to their menstrual cycle after having the vaccine.’ Stable door, horse and bolted come to mind.   

And whilst pregnant women were excluded from the Covid vaccine trials, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) had these reassuring words to ‘pregnant people’: ‘Reproductive toxicity studies with the Moderna vaccine in rats haven’t uncovered any worrisome signals.’ 

Are we to place our trust in pharmaceutical companies whose employees’ emails reveal such statements as: 

‘I am not 100 per cent comfortable with this data being made publicly available.’ 

‘Thus far we have buried trials 15, 31, 56 … how do we face the outside world when they begin to criticise us for suppressing data?’ 

‘Lisa has done a great “smoke and mirrors” job.’

All this correspondence was made public when litigation against AstraZeneca’s anti-psychotic drug Seroquel began. The company, now most famously known for the development and production of Covid vaccines, faced a major lawsuit in 2009 brought by thousands of Seroquel users who claimed they had developed diabetes whilst taking the drug.   

The damning emails proved the pharmaceutical giant had been aware of the risk a decade earlier. Moreover, AstraZeneca had suppressed research which showed its earlier anti-psychotic treatment, Haloperidol, was more effective, and much cheaper, than Seroquel.  

Employee John Tumas messaged concerns to colleagues that ‘our own analysis supports the “view out there” that we are less effective than Haloperidol.’ 

Promoting expensive treatments over cheaper alternatives has also caused debate regarding Covid-19. Those advocating for the use of Ivermectin, more commonly used as an anti-parasitic in animals, to treat the virus, have been relentlessly mocked. But studies have shown the drug can provide ‘an increase in clinical recovery … and a decrease in mortality rates even when used in patients with severe Covid-19.’ 

Yet a trial conducted on those with mild symptoms concluded it had little effect. Doctor Eduardo Lopez-Medina published his findings in JAMA, maintaining that Ivermectin had delivered negligible benefits.  

However, a ‘conflict of interest disclosure’ revealed Dr Lopez-Medina was in receipt of grants and ‘personal fees’ from pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen and Sanofi Pasteur – all involved in the production of Covid-19 vaccines

Countless stories have emerged in the past 18 months which should raise serious questions over transparency and truthfulness within the medical field – from doctors wrongly claiming intensive care units are full of unvaccinated 20 and 30-year-olds on ventilators, to hospital matrons inventing stories of children’s wards full of Covid patients.

And yet we are expected to have faith that such medics, and the pharmaceutical industry, have our best interests at heart in their pursuit of global vaccination against Covid-19. 

Like Frances Oldham Kelsey, we should remain steadfast against coercion and duress. We should ask more questions and seek more answers. If we do not like the answers we find, then we must hold the line. For our own sake and that of our children. 

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Mary McGreechin
Mary McGreechin is a medical historian and researcher from Glasgow.

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