A little perspective

Several times recently I've had antivaxers cite thalidomide as a case of medical harm and/or failure. Well, I was just prepping some medication and I got to thinking.

You see, there are two packs of thalidomide in my kitchen drawer.


Yep, two packs. You see, thalidomide is still in use. In the case of my kitchen drawer, it's being used as a treatment for Esther's GvH, an area where it seems to have some effect. These days, of course, the screening process is more stringent - you can't get it if you're pregnant, for a start, and there are regular checks on patients receiving it. But it's in use, and in fact is being manufactured right here in Australia.

But that's not the thing that struck me as I was musing. The thing that struck me as I was musing was this.

The thalidomide withdrawal that antivaxers hold as a touchstone of medical negligence, (or incompetence), happened in 1961.

That's closer to World War Two than it is to today.

Not only that, but it's closer to World War One than it is to today.

No, seriously. Thalidomide was withdrawn roughly 49 years ago, 43 years after the close of The Great War. Nearly half a century ago. To put it in context, 1961 was the year Russia put Yuri Gagarin into space. It was the year the Berlin Wall was built. Also in the 1960s, Plate Tectonics was properly codified, the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation was discovered by Penzias and Wilson.

Just to emphasise. When thalidomide's teratogenic nature was becoming known, our species had not left the earth's atmosphere, and had not fully figured out how the continents came to be where they are.

In terms of medicine, we had never carried out a successful heart transplant. Today we carry aout about 3,500 a year. There was no hint of technology such as Medical Lasers (60s, 70s), MRI (late 70s), PET and CAT scanners (late 70s, 80s). Gene therapy was not even thought of, the structure of DNA only having been published in the late 50s. We had no idea about AIDS, and of course many antivaxers have no idea about that now. Medicine has advanced more since the 1960s than it advanced in the previous two centuries, probably longer.

And this piece of ancient history is the antivaxers' favourite example of medical failure. And it wasn't even a complete failure. Thalidomide is back, and the medical community has learned from the tragedy. It changed the whole of drug testing and licencing.

And let me just put something else into perspective. Thalidomide is estimated to have affected 10,000 - 20,000 individuals worldwide.

The Jenny McCarthy Body Count currently stands at 65,593 preventable illnesses and 619 deaths for the US alone. And so far there's no sign of Jenny being withdrawn in any way.

posted @ Tuesday, September 21, 2010 12:36 AM


Comments on this entry:

# re: A little perspective

Left by robert at 9/21/2010 3:27 PM
ok.... so is your point that because it was 40 50 years ago it was ok not to do adequate testing on a drug, and give it to pregnant mothers.
Also you only speak of the survivors of the thalidomide drug.
What about the hundreds of children who died shortly after being born.
It is interesting that in your 'musings' you didn't take into account that thalidomide is still incorrectly prescribed by doctors in brazil leading to deformities up to this very day. Its bad very bad and we shouldn’t discount those who’s quality of life is so seriously reduced because of it
Oh and what’s an antivaxers ?
actually never mind I’ll never find this age again

# re: A little perspective

Left by Jason at 9/21/2010 3:43 PM
Hooray, a drive-by commenter who actually admits it.

OK, if you don't know what an antivaxer is, you won't get the point of the post and you'll fuck it up, as you've clearly done.

My point is not that medical problems aren't real. My point is not that misprescription and medical injury don't happen any more. If you'd cared to read the post properly, you'd have seen that.

My point was that anti-vaccination proponents (antivaxers, see?) use the thalidomide withdrawal as a touchstone without understanding it, and without realising that the medicine of 1961 was a world away from what we have now. 1961 standards would be considered poor for the third world today. And by the way, Brazil is considered a "developing" nation and I'm not surprised in the least. That's still not the point of the post. Oh, and [citation needed]

As for the "you only speak about the survivors", I have no idea where the fuck you got that from. the 10,000 - 20,000 figure is all affected individuals, as estimated in the aftermath. That includes deaths, which made up a proportion somewhere around three quarters of that figure.

If you're going to comment, engage brain first, Robert, or you'll look stupid. As you do.
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