By Hilary and Peter Butler from their book From One Prick To Another, (2008)
In times long since gone, any pharmaceutical product used to be tested for safety, with one group of people using the drug and another group, the “control” group, using a placebo.
A placebo, in the context of a drug trial, was represented by an “inert” substance; something which had absolutely no impact on any biochemical, immunological or other measurable function in the body. In this way, the studies used to compare any adverse biological “effect” of the drug against the effect of nothing.
Somewhere along the line, the whole concept of what a placebo is in relation
to safety testing has changed. The principle was brought into play that if the drug or vaccine trialled is perceived to have a defi nable benefi t and perceived to be “safe”, then people in the placebo group given “nothing” are being deprived of a fundamental human right of being “helped” in a similar way to that presumed to have benefit for the group being given the drug.
That concept was then expanded to include the principle that it was unethical
to take a group of people who might be at risk of some/any disease, and to “not
treat” the controls with a vaccine of similar value, albeit against another disease.
So, in the New Zealand MeNZB trials, the “placebo controls” got other presumed safe vaccines to different meningococcal diseases, so that “at the very least” they would reap some supposed “benefi t”. The reactions of the people getting the other vaccines were compared with the reactions of the people getting MeNZB. A similar outcome in both groups is presumed to mean that both vaccines are safe.
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