MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The German paper DIE ZEIT reported about the dire state of the pandemic in Upper Bavaria. In the district of Rosenheim (close to where I grew up), only about 58% of the population are fully vaccinated, far less than the German average.

Why?

The article blames a broad distrust in conventional medicine, the media, and politics. And a pronounced tendency to look for alternatives. Nowhere in Bavaria are there as many Heilpraktiker as in Upper Bavaria. Heilpraktikers are not medical practitioners, they focus on so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) and do not have to prove that they can effectively treat patients, even if that is what the name suggests. “That seems to be a cultural factor in the region. They are already pretty much in their own soup here,” says the director of the local hospital, Jens Deerberg-Wittram. There is much skepticism towards everything that comes from above and a pronounced interest in SCAM in the region, he says.

The gradient runs from north to south through Bavaria. With Heilpraktiker as well as with vaccination. The higher the density of Heilpraktiker, the lower the uptake of immunizations. This is just as true for Corona as for vaccination in general. For measles, the figure for fully vaccinated children in 2019 was 92.3 % in Germany, but in Rosenheim, it was only 83.3 %. “These are all ingredients for the big Corona cake,” says Deerberg-Wittram.

In Rosenheim, vaccination takes place in the local Volkshochschule, the German institution of adult education (as DER SPIEGEL disclosed [with my help] in 2018, these institutions are deeply steeped in woo and the Volkshochschule in Rosenheim even offers a course led by a Heilpraktiker). Although there is only a small, inconspicuous sign in the window outside of the Volkshochschule in Rosenheim, the queue of people wanting to be vaccinated is long. It stretches across the entire first floor; above the heads of the waiting people, the courses on offer flicker on a monitor: Crochet and knitting in the sewing room, integration courses, language courses in English and Spanish at different levels. Yoga for the elderly, Tai Chi.

12 Responses to Upper Bavaria is struggling with COVID-19, not least due to so-called alternative medicine

  • Let me guess: Bavaria is deeply socially reactionary conservative relative to the rest of Germany. Not the type of people who want to be told when they’re wrong; something good science should excel at. Harsh truths vs pleasing lies? It’s not even a contest. And the cranks and the grifters all know it.

  • Bavaria has just published Corona related numbers that make me wonder what’s going on:
    https://www.n-tv.de/panorama/Knapp-30-Prozent-der-Toten-in-Bayern-geimpft-article22929154.html

    (Newspaper article in German).

    It says that about 30% of the people dying from Corona are fully vaccinated! Most of them are elderly people.

    • nothing mysterious about the high % of vaccinated patients in a situation where the vaccination is not 100% effective and most people are vaccinated.
      this must be expected

      • It also confirms what we’re learning through experience; which is that COVID immunity wanes. The elderly, having been vaccinated earliest, have had the longest period for their immunity to wane; which is why they’re now being recommended boosters. Furthermore, being elderly means they are the most at risk of death even before COVID comes along, so if their death rate is high relative to that of unvaccinated youth, that is not so surprising.

        I really wish our schools taught a little bit of statistics and epidemology to our children. When scientists hear galloping hooves, they assume horses unless and until evidence to the contrary is presented. Whereas altie conspiracists immediately declare an incoming unicorn attack, angrily lambasting the scientists for not panicking as they are. It never even occurs to them to ask “Have I missed (or misinterpreted) something that all those experts have not?”

        Such is the unassailable logic [sic] of the paranoid narcissist. And it is very, very tiresome.

        • I think that the most important lesson people should learn about statistics is how atrociously bad we humans are at this particular part of mathematics, and that you should never trust your intuition when it comes to statistics. The actual calculations with and insights into statistics are only a secondary concern, for those who actually want to get it right.

          About those vaccination and infection rates: these regularly pop up, and are often used by antivaccine people to argue that vaccines aren’t much good. One particular example comes to mind where a US high school was facing a measles outbreak, and there were far more vaccinated than unvaccinated students who got infected.
          I must admit that my very first reaction also was ‘How odd’ – until I did the actual numbers:
          – Let’s take 1000 students, 95% (950) of whom are vaccinated.
          – Let’s assume that the vaccine is 90% effective.
          – Let’s also assume that all susceptible people will get infected.
          Q: How many unvaccinated students will get infected, and how many vaccinated students?
          A: We have 50 unvaccinated students, who will all contract measles. We have 950 vaccinated students, but 10% of those = 95 students are not immune (as the vaccine is only 90% effective), so we have 95 vaccinated students falling ill – almost twice the number of unvaccinated students.
          Yet even after this simple, transparent calculation, it somehow still feels a bit awkward to see far more vaccinated people getting infected, in the light of the knowledge that vaccines are highly effective.

          Of course the Bavarian situation is rather more complicated, with both vaccination rates and risk factors heavily skewed according to age groups, plus as you mention waning immunity. So I won’t burn my fingers on a calculation here – that’s something that public health services are paid for.

          • @Richard: “I must admit that my very first reaction also was ‘How odd’ – until I did the actual numbers:”

            Yeah, but your response to “How odd” was the right one. There is many things in life that turn out to be surprisingly unintuitive and defy common sense once you begin to figure them out. But that takes hard work and a certain humility, and most folk would rather expend the bare minimum needed to feel good about themselves. Thus the shortcut-accelerated human reasoning that was “good enough” to do back when we were all on the savannah trying not to get eaten by lions now gets applied to problems that are way beyond its competence. And when their prediction fails to match their reality they conclude that it must be reality which is wrong.

            But how can we convince ordinary people that “it’s a bit more complicated than that” and “it’s not all about you” when every ideologue and grifter knows that their own route to success lies in telling them the opposite.

            I hate how scientists are popularly seen as in some way “special” and “apart” from the rest of us. They’re just ordinary people too, with all the same ambitions, motivations, foibles, and flaws. The only difference is they’ve made a conscious effort at the start to teach themselves epistemology—i.e. they’ve learned how to learn—and look how much further they’ve gone with that extra flint knife tucked into their belts. And yet, in our society we do not take pride in mastering that tool; we take pride in winning on Mastermind.

            And so we shuffle those who think differently from us into the convenient category of “Other”, which is a lazy (and dangerous) cop-out. The popular psychology of cost and reward is completely bass-ackward.

            I may be a bear of very little brain, but even I’m smart enough to realize that if someone else is running circles around me and leaving me trailing in their dust, the first question I should ask myself is “Have they spotted something that I’ve not?” And if they have: observe, study, and learn how to do it myself. I weep for all those who pass up learning opportunities for arrogant resentment instead. There are a lot of them about.

        • It has occurred to me that a minimum requirement for graduation from high school should include knowing about percentages, exponential growth and at least something about the behaviour of random numbers, though the latter is a huge subject in itself, encompassing as it does the disciplines of probability and statistics.

          I am astounded at the number of people who appear not to understand any of these, as they must be floundering almost every time they try to make a decision. That certainly seems to be the case with our Government from watching them struggle to make sense of what their own scientific advisers have been telling them during the pandemic.

          • Hard to tell if our govt is floundering ’cos they don’t understand it themselves, or because they’re struggling on how to soft-soap it to their core voters without getting their heads bitten off. I’m sure Sunak graps both sets of numbers perfectly well, while Boris Johnson has no interest in anything except Boris Johnson. My old dad, a lifetime Tory supporter absolutely loathes the lot of ’em and grumbles that for all the dreadfulness of the SNP at least Nicola does an excellent elder stateswoman.

            Meanwhile the boorish fools that form the popular Tory base around here are scooting about joyfully mask-free in their run up to Boozemas. It shouldn’t take much to flip the recent decline right on its head; and then I’ll be enjoying my second winter without seeing family because we’re back in lockdown again, all for want of a tiny bit of consideration for others. (And don’t get me started on my own MP; there isn’t a bench back far enough for that waste of ATP.)

            Then again, could you imagine either Tories or Labour successfully holding onto power if a good chunk of the populace wasn’t borderline illiterate. Clearly there are evolutionary benefits (for some) to not understanding how anything works.

    • 99% of goals scored in football occur with a goal keeper present. Therefore goalkeepers are useless.*

      * Analogy from Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim, on her German You Tube channel.

  • We have the same “hotspots” here in the US and pockets of it literally everywhere. Just yesterday I received an email from a friend in a small town in the Pacific Northwest known for its high density of MD’s who practice VERY alternative “medicine”. My friend has been diagnosed with MS by a real doctor, but immedicately transferred to an alternative doctor (MD, sadly) who tells her NOT to get vaccinated and not to do anything the other doctors tell her to, but rather to change her diet, take supplements, and the usual rubbish. It would be useless for me to point out the obvious to her and I am left having to suggest that she “be careful” and try not to upset her.

    One rather expects this in this town, but I found it almost just as prevalent when I lived in the Midwest–classes in almost every woo subject were on offer at all the adult education centers in Wisconsin as well. Chiropracters were heavily represented, even in subjects that had nothing to do with adjustments and such. All manner of diet scams, and even reikki were on offer, the latter sponsored by the nuns at the local catholic church.

    I agree with has–it is very, very tiresome. It is extra problematic when it is people who are “friends”. I have dropped so many and am now trying just to ignore it. Happily my own offspring have remained free of contamination, and I am developing a new line of acquaintances who, while they do indulge in some woo, are vaccinated and do go to regular doctors. Some are Asian and are particularly fond of acupuncture and herbal nonsense, but they don’t go on about it all the time at least.

  • An essay was published in the Spiegel, which also addresses the fact why the vaccination rate is low and vaccination skepticism is high in German states such as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. It refers to the negative influence of anthroposophists who are particularly active in the mentioned states, e.g. through Waldorf schools.

    https://www.spiegel.de/kultur/waldorfschule-und-impfgegner-in-steiners-sekte-a-8242889d-190f-479f-bf6d-a22ccab54013

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