The news of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine approval for use in the UK has triggered a debate between supporters and opponents of inoculation. 

Just hours after the news broke on Wednesday morning, the infamous drug Thalidomide and US philanthropist Bill Gates started trending on Twitter, bringing old vaccination myths back to life.

But why were these topics trending?

Thalidomide: Was it a vaccine?

Thalidomide, a drug developed in 1950s in West Germany, was marketed as a treatment for morning sickness. However, it later transpired that the drug caused birth defects in thousands of children whose mothers took it while pregnant.

Some vaccine sceptics say that testing of the Pfizer vaccine has been rushed without consideration for the outcomes, and that is risking another Thalidomide-like medical disaster. However, other commentators, like popular comedy writer James Felton, quickly took to Twitter to poke fun at those spreading conspiracy theories.

Dr Ruth Blue, consultant for the Thalidomide Society, told PA 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”.

Many took to Twitter to try and reason with scaremongers, including Dr Jennifer Cassidy, a Departmental Lecturer in Global Governance and Diplomacy at the University of Oxford.

Bill Gates: Old new microchip conspiracy theory

As for Bill Gates, he has long been the target of conspiracy theories. The latest one suggests that his charity foundation is planning to use the coronavirus vaccine to implant microchips into the global population. It was debunked by many media organisations but is still occasionally used by anti-vaxxers.

Many proponents of the Bill Gates microchip conspiracy theories cite his 2015 speech, in which he warned that the greatest risk to humanity was an infectious virus that could threaten the lives of millions of people. Conspiracy theorists said this speech revealed the philanthropist’s aspiration to assert control over the global health system.

recent YouGov poll of 1,640 people suggested that 28 per cent of Americans believe that Bill Gates wants to use vaccines to implant microchips in people.

The editor of independent fact-checking charity Full Fact, Tom Phillips, told the PA news agency that much of the disinformation plays on “the more legitimate territory of concerns and questions that people may have about the speed of it [vaccine production] and about how well they [vaccines] have been tested”.

“That’s a territory where having concerns is not necessarily wrong,” he said, adding that it is the authorities and the vaccine manufacturers who should “do a good job of showing the evidence and earning the trust of the public”.

The charity he heads previously debunked several myths about coronavirus vaccine, in particular that a jab developed by the Oxford University contains cells from an aborted foetus.

On Wednesday, the UK drug regulatory body, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), assured Brits of the vaccine safety.

It also explained that the approval has come so quickly partly because the medical body has used a so-called rolling review, by assessing data as it is submitted, rather than waiting for all data to be made available along with a formal application.

MHRA Chief Executive, Dr June Raine said in a statement published on the government website:

“We have carried out a rigorous scientific assessment of all the available evidence of quality, safety and effectiveness [of the vaccine]. The public’s safety has always been at the forefront of our minds – safety is our watchword.

“Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases. They save millions of lives worldwide.”

Meanwhile, some social media users have started a separate hashtag #Iwillgetvaccinated explaining their reasons to get the Pfizer jab when it is available.

It is the first in the series of articles on Raven News debunking vaccination myths.