This morning brought this article from The Washington Post, Prospect of a coronavirus vaccine unites anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and hippie moms in Germany and I have to admit it wasn’t the first similarly-themed article I’d read.
Yes, this is Germany and not the USA, but if anything, that makes reading an article like this even more confounding. My understanding of Germany’s approach to the coronavirus and their overall belief in science and medicine has been that they don’t suffer from the same kind of widespread disinformation and outright conspiracy-mongering that currently infests the United States. And to be fair, they do have leadership that is less obviously bonkers than we do:
This is how Angela Merkel explained the effect of a higher #covid19 infection rate on the country's health system.
— Benjamin Alvarez (@BenjAlvarez1) April 15, 2020
But that’s exactly what makes the Post article from this morning so surprising. Maybe I was simply under- (or mis)-informed. Because here’s the money quote from the article:
“With such a bad pandemic, there were people that said it would make anti-vaxxers wake up and see that vaccines are important,” said Heidi Larson, director of the London-based Vaccine Confidence Project. “But it’s actually done the opposite.”
Indeed. On at least two levels: I was one of those people who suspected – was pretty convinced, actually – that the emergence of a worldwide pandemic like this would snap people out of their antivax stances. With thousands, then tens of thousands dying all around them, surely people would realize – or maybe become acquainted with – the science of herd immunity and vaccination?
Apparently not. And that means I probably need to look more closely to figure out why not, because I still don’t understand it. The lead photo in that Post article is a German antivaxxer holding a sign reading “Gib Gates Keine Chance” – a reference to the discredited conspiracy theory that because Bill Gates gave a TED talk in 2015 warning the world was not ready for the next pandemic, that somehow meant he was now going to capitalize on the current pandemic to implant the world with embedded microchip tracking devices.
I know — it sounds nuts when you actually spell it out in a single sentence like that. But despite the debunking of this conspiracy theory in pretty much every fact-checking outfit which looks at such things, people apparently still believe it — even in Germany. And I just do not understand it. But it just might be strong enough this time around to prevent herd immunity. If a virus is 100% effective, then herd immunity can be achieved even if not 100% of the people get vaccinated. But if a virus is only 75% effective, as various immunologists have warned the eventual coronavirus vaccine might be, then the number of deniers who will refuse to get the vaccine makes a much larger impact. One potentially big enough that the human race may never achieve immunity.