Lateral thinkers want to tick off the corona pandemic and claim to have always predicted everything correctly – for example about the effectiveness of vaccinations or masks. A fact check shows why this is wishful thinking.
News about the corona virus has not been on the front pages of the newspapers every day for a long time. Only a few people still wear masks in public, and the number of new vaccinations seems to have largely stagnated. After more than three years of the pandemic, many are longing for closure. However, there has not been a final review so far.
Lateral thinkers and opponents of vaccination come up against this gap in the balance sheet. If you believe their reasoning, they always want to have known things correctly, for example when it comes to masks or vaccinations. The most frequently spread story: With the corona vaccinations, an unpredictable drug was forced on everyone. You yourself, on the other hand, have always said that the drugs – often referred to by you as “poison injection” or “gene injection” – are dangerous to fatal. They claim that what was once branded as a conspiracy myth is now accepted as fact.
“Although there was no data at all at the time, this milieu decided from the start that vaccination was the devil,” says psychologist Lea Frühwirth from the Center for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy (Cemas). The institute examines radicalization tendencies and conspiracy stories on the internet.
According to Frühwirth, this picture, to which the supporters are still referring, was not created on the basis of specialist knowledge and the examination of facts. But purely from a gut feeling. “If you happen to come up with a result that you assumed two years earlier, then it’s the case of a blind hen that sometimes finds a seed,” says the Cemas scientist.
On the occasion of the International Fact-Checking Day, the German Press Agency (dpa) examined three widespread theses from the lateral thinking and anti-vaccination environment:
1st claim: Everywhere it was said that the corona vaccination had no side effects. The opposite is now evident in many vaccination damages.
Facts: Yes, there were isolated voices like that of the then SPD member of parliament and later Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach, who spoke of “vaccinations without side effects”.
But researchers have made it clear from the start that there are no drugs without side effects. Also, their effectiveness is not 100 percent. This is the case, for example, with flu vaccinations – and also with Covid vaccinations.
The then President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lothar Wieler, said several weeks before the first spade was even set: Not only the protective effect of the vaccination could be observed, but also possible side effects.
These are not swept under the carpet, but are registered and evaluated by the responsible Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) from the outset. The most recent PEI report for the period up to the end of October 2022 speaks of almost 51,000 suspected cases of serious side effects after one of the around 188 million vaccinations. But it is important to note that suspected cases are not proven side effects – and certainly not vaccine damage. Vaccination reactions are “often related to a vaccination, but not necessarily causally related,” according to the PEI.
According to research by the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, 13 of the 16 federal states received 6,600 applications for benefits after corona vaccination damage by mid-March. Of these, 284 were recognized. At that time, almost 62 million people in these 13 countries had received at least one Covid vaccination.
Reports of serious health consequences after vaccination are very important in order to raise awareness of the topic. However, it should not be overlooked how rare such individual cases actually are and how much a vaccination protects against possible serious damage after a Covid disease. “The bottom line is that the very good benefit-risk ratio in favor of vaccination remains,” said Leif Erik Sander, director of the Berlin Charité Clinic for Infectious Diseases, recently on Twitter.
2nd claim: A study by the renowned research network Cochrane proves that masks do not protect against corona.
Facts: Cochrane even wrote in mid-March that this was an incorrect and misleading interpretation of the overview study. It is correct that the study makers considered various scientific analyzes of the effectiveness of certain measures: In addition to quarantine and washing hands, this was also the general wearing of masks in the population – but not the individual wearing of masks when you are confronted with a person infected with Covid, for example.
For this scenario, a study by the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization came to the conclusion at the end of 2021 that masks can significantly reduce the risk of corona: If an infected person and a non-infected person wear well-fitting FFP2 masks, that is maximum risk of infection after 20 minutes, even at the shortest distance in a room, is hardly more than one per thousand.
3rd assertion: The vaccination has never been of any use – not even against severe Covid courses.
Facts: It is true that vaccinated people can also become infected with the corona virus, end up in hospital or even die from Covid-19. According to scientific findings, the protective effect decreases in the period after the last vaccination.
The RKI writes at the beginning of March: Several months after vaccination, an infection or mild form of Covid-19 can “now only be prevented to a small extent”. But after evaluating the corona cases, including the vaccination status around the turn of the year 2022/2023, it can be seen “that the small proportion of the unvaccinated population accounts for a relatively large proportion of the severe Covid 19 cases”. For weeks, unvaccinated people made up the majority of Covid cases in intensive care units.
Specifically, the RKI writes in a paper from mid-January: The effectiveness of the basic immunization (two vaccinations) against a hospital stay because of Covid-19 is on average a good 55 percent, after a third dose it is more than 81 percent and after a total of four vaccinations it is just under 96 percent. This also applies to the currently circulating Omikron variant.
Why do lateral thinkers cling to their narrative?
At the time, politicians had to make decisions again and again when scientific data and experience with the corona virus were still scarce – but the time pressure was extremely high. In retrospect, one must always ask: Was the information available back then that is available today? Would they lead to a different decision being made now? What is remembered from April 2020 is the statement by the former Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) that in a few months we will probably have to forgive each other a lot.
The lateral thinking scene, on the other hand, insisted early on to be the exclusive bearer of the truth. Those who regarded scientific evidence as elementary were “sleeping sheep” to them. In the lateral thinking milieu, a group ideology with social ties has developed. In this bubble, followers got their validation. Old friendships may have ended.
The drop is enormous
“The fall rate of having to admit that you were wrong is enormous,” says Cemas expert Frühwirth in a dpa interview. Society also laughed at these people as “covidiots”, which made it even more difficult to turn back. How are you supposed to get out of that face-saving? “So they stick to their picture and if necessary rewrite everything so that in the end they were somehow right.”
Sticking to the disinformation about vaccinations artificially maintains the potential for protest in the scene. “You shouldn’t underestimate how powerful the repetition of these narratives is and how emotionally relatable it is,” says Frühwirth.
Mistrust and aggression are fueled – against politics, the media and science. Anger is then paired with a feeling of helplessness in the face of an alleged conspiracy. With the story that the government wants to inject you to death, you create legitimacy for fighting back. According to Frühwirth, there is potential for violence in this: “I would definitely rate it as dangerous, especially because we simply didn’t take it seriously for a long time.”
All information on the dpa fact checks Contact page for the dpa fact check team
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.