A few months ago, I started contributing to a German blog. This has been fun but only moderately successful in terms of readership. This week, I posted something about a homeopath and his strange attitude towards COVID vaccinations. This post was so far read by around 20 000 people!
As it was so unusually successful (and because there is a big conference today on the subject), I decided to translate it for my non-German readers.
Here we go:
A lot of downright silly stuff is currently being written about vaccine side effects at the moment, not least on Twitter where I recently found the following comment from a medical colleague:
I’ve been a doctor for 25 years now. I have never experienced such an amount of vaccine side effects. I can’t imagine that other colleagues feel differently.
This kind of remark naturally makes you think. So let’s think a little bit about these two sentences. In particular, I would like to ask and briefly answer the following questions:
- How reliable is this physician’s impression?
- What does the reliable evidence say?
- Is it conceivable that this doctor is mistaken?
- What might be the causes of his error?
- Who is the author?
- Why is the tweet questionable?
1. How reliable is this doctor’s impression?
A whole 25 years of professional experience! So we are dealing with a thoroughly experienced doctor. His statement about the current unusually large amount of vaccination side effects should therefore be correct. Nevertheless, one should perhaps bear in mind that the incidence of side effects cannot be determined by rough estimations, but must be precisely quantified. In addition, we also need data on the severity and duration of symptoms. For example, is it only mild pain at the injection site or venous thrombosis? Are the symptoms only temporary, long-lasting, or even permanent? In general, it must be said that the experience of a physician, while not completely insignificant, does not constitute evidence. Oscar Wilde once said, “experience is the name we give to our mistakes.”
2. What does the reliable evidence tell us?
Even if the good doctor had 100 years of professional experience and even if he could accurately characterize the side effects, his experience would be trivial compared to the hard data we have on this subject. Nearly 2 billion vaccinations have now been performed worldwide, and we are therefore in the fortunate position of having reliable statistics to guide us. And they show that side effects such as pain at the injection site, fatigue, and headaches are quite common, while serious problems are very rare. A recent summary comes to the following conclusion (my translation):
The current data suggests that the currently approved mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for the vast majority of the population. Furthermore, broad-based vaccine uptake is critical for achieving herd immunity; an essential factor in decreasing future surges of COVID-19 infections. Ensuring sufficient COVID-19 vaccination adoption by the public will involve attending to the rising vaccine hesitancy among a pandemic-weary population. Evidence-based approaches at the federal, state, city, and organizational levels are necessary to improve vaccination efforts and to decrease hesitancy. Educating the general public about the safety of the current and forthcoming vaccines is of vital consequence to public health and ongoing and future large-scale vaccination initiatives.
3. Is it conceivable that this doctor is mistaken?
In answering this question, I agree with Oscar Wilde. The evidence very clearly contradicts the physician’s impression. So the doctor seems to be mistaken — at least about the incidence of side effects that are not completely normal and thus to be expected. Even if indeed ‘other colleagues feel no differently’, such a cumulative experience would still mislead us. The plural of ‘anecdote’ is ‘anecdotes’ and not ‘evidence’.
4. What might be the causes of his error?
I wonder whether our doctor perhaps did not see or did not want to see the following circumstance: It is inevitable that a physician, at a time when soon 50% of all Germans were vaccinated, also sees a lot of patients complaining about side effects. He has never seen anything like that in his 25-year career! That’s because we haven’t been hit by a pandemic in the last 25 years. For a similar reason, the colleague will treat far fewer frostbites in midsummer than during a severe winter. The only surprising thing would be not to see more patients reporting vaccine side effects during the biggest vaccination campaign ever.
5. Who is the author?
At this point, we should ask, who is actually the author and author of the above tweet? Perhaps the answer to this question will provide insight into his motivation for spreading nonsense? Dr. Thomas Quak (no, I did not invent the name) is a practicing homeopath in Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany. Like many homeopaths, this Quak probably has a somewhat disturbed relationship to vaccination. In his case, this goes as far as recommending several vaccine-critical machinations on his website and even offering ‘critical vaccination advice’ as a special service.
Now we can immediately put the Quak tweet in a better perspective. Dr. Quak is a vaccination opponent or critic and wants to warn the public: for heaven’s sake, don’t get vaccinated folks; side effects are more common than ever!!!! Therefore, he also conceals the fact that the side-effects are completely normal, short-term vaccination reactions, which are ultimately of no significance.
6. Why is the tweet concerning?
Perhaps you feel that the Quak and his Quack tweet are irrelevant? What harm can a single tweet do, and who cares about a homeopath from Fürstenfeldbruck? As good as none and nobody! However, the importance does not lie in a single homeopath unsettling the population; it consists in the fact that such things currently happen every day thousandfold.
In their narrow-mindedness, vaccination opponents of all shades want to make us believe that they are concerned about our well-being because they know more than we and all the experts (who are of course bought by the pharmaceutical industry). But if you scratch just a little at the surface of their superficiality, it turns out that the exact opposite is true. They are ill-informed and only interested in spreading their hare-brained, misanthropic ideology.
And why do homeopaths do this? There are certainly several reasons. Although Hahnemann himself was impressed by the success of vaccination, which was invented in his time and hailed as a breakthrough, most of his successors soon sided with vaccination critics. Many do so by warning (like our Quak) of side effects, thinking that they are thus protecting their patients. However, they ignore two very important points:
- Even if the dangers of vaccinations were much greater than they actually are (no one is claiming that they are completely harmless), the benefits would still far outweigh the potential harms.
- If the Quaks (and all the quacks) of this world succeeded in dissuading a sizable percentage of the population from vaccinating and thus save them from the ‘oh-so-dangerous side effects’, they would still be doing a real disservice to public health. With regard to COVID-19, this would mean that the pandemic would remain with us in the long term and cost many more lives.
Whatever the motives of the homeopathic anti-vax brigade, it is certain that their attitude is a threat to our health. This has repeatedly made me state:
The homeopathic pills may be harmless, but unfortunately, the homeopaths are not!
- COVID-19 vaccine availability: what are the side effects? | British Journal of General Practice (bjgp.org) ︎
- Review the safety of Covid-19 mRNA vaccines: a review – PubMed (nih.gov) ︎
- Vaccination Information (doktor-quak.de) ︎