How do I counter arguments against vaccines
Expert on dealing with vaccination doubters : "They did not understand how the new vaccines work"
Herwig Kollaritsch studied medicine and completed his habilitation in his hometown of Vienna, specializing in travel medicine, vaccination, epidemiology and microbiology. He is a member of the Austrian National Vaccination Board (NIG). Together with the journalist Silvia Jelinciczhe wrote the book “Pros & Cons: Corona vaccination. Tips for the personal vaccination decision ”.
Mr. Kollaritsch, you have written a book that is supposed to make it easier for you to decide for or against a corona vaccination. Have you already made a personal decision?
Yes, I definitely want to get vaccinated, and as early as possible. If I can free myself from this uncomfortable situation and move more freely, also professionally, then that is such a gain in comfort that I gladly accept two days with a sore arm for it.
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But you also say in your book: "A vaccination is not a cough candy"
I deliberately included that because we are dealing with vaccines that we know are a little more reactogenic than the usual vaccines that we know. The RNA vaccination causes a reaction in our organism that we feel - but that does not mean that it is harmful.
This is due to the special immune response that these vaccinations cause, but which is also very high quality. This reaction has to be distinguished from vaccine side effects, because a reaction is a sign that the immune system is working: If you have a cold, for example, your symptoms are also a sign that your body is fighting viruses - a desirable signal.
How does it actually look with the compatibility?
The first figures from Pfizer show that the vast majority of reactions were mild or moderate, with only a small proportion classified as “severe”. An interesting result is that older people tolerate the vaccination significantly better. This may be because the immune system ages too and is no longer as reactogenic as it is in younger people.
There are currently headlines such as “Can RNA vaccinations cause people to mutate?”. How can such fears be addressed?
Unfortunately, it is by God that the people who make these claims have not understood how an mRNA vaccine works. RNA does not go into the cell nucleus, on the contrary: it is discharged from the cell nucleus. The DNA is located in the cell nucleus, that is completely different.
What is feared here is called insertion mutagenesis, when the genetic material in the cell is changed through the insertion of a genetic material. But that doesn't work with RNA. One could only fear that the RNA itself will multiply in the cell, but that is also not possible with this vaccine because it is destroyed after the mRNA has been read and an immune reaction has started.
It's like I have a sketch of a plan for a house that I'm going to build and then I throw the plan away.
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How can you explain this to someone who does not have access to your book or perhaps does not have the training to distinguish RNA from DNA?
The attempt I keep making is to explain that we don't do anything that doesn't exist in nature. We let our bodies produce a vaccine. This has the advantage that it takes place under very controlled conditions, because this process takes place continuously in the cell, only with proteins that are not recognized as foreign by our immune system.
But we also have sensors in the cell that recognize foreign proteins and set the immune reaction in motion. For me, RNA vaccines even have a particular advantage because they are among the purest vaccines of all: There are no vector viruses in them, no residues from a tissue culture on which the vaccine was grown. It is a fully synthetic product that can be easily controlled chemically and is therefore of consistent quality.
If you had a doubter in your own practice, how would you talk to that person?
First of all, I would ask the patient to make a personal risk-benefit assessment. There are different levels: First, we know the numbers on cases and mortality, here in Austria 4,000 people have died from the coronavirus so far. It is not an option to endure such a pandemic and accept so many deaths.
Second, we cannot accept these limitations, physical as well as psychological and economic, for years. And thirdly, I would say to a young person who does not see himself endangered: We live in a community based on solidarity.
In addition to the immediate corona cases, there is long-term collateral damage, the health system cannot withstand such a thing for long and people have to postpone their operations and chemotherapy with corresponding consequences. Again in bare numbers: If we can prevent 90 percent of the 4,000 corona deaths in nine months, then we will still have around 600 a year. And it's worth it for that.
And what about the vaccine damage and side effects? In Germany, 60 percent of 40 to 49 year olds fear side effects of the vaccine due to the rapid development and approval process.
What is certain is that we have no serious side effects up to a frequency of one in 10,000; for less common side effects, the data will be collected in the accompanying survey. Then we will be able to assess whether there is a fictitious risk of more serious side effects.
Personally, I don't believe that, because it's an inactivated vaccine and not a live vaccine, which is more difficult to calculate in terms of drug safety than an inactivated one. The English have now rumored that there were two allergic reactions.
Everyone who works with vaccinations will twist their mouths into a knowing smile, because we already know it: An allergic reaction can occur with any vaccine, especially in people who have already had an allergic reaction to a vaccine or one of them have a long list of allergies. You have to inquire about this beforehand and observe it, but that is not something that is life-threatening.
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Doctors and politicians should therefore rather be ruthlessly honest than glorify the vaccine as a miracle cure.
You have to be completely open to people: I always tell people what we know and how to behave. If you develop a fever from the vaccination, you should take an antipyretic and cool an aching arm with compresses. The allergic reactions should occur immediately, this should be noticed in the half-hour follow-up at the vaccination station.
In a short period of time you presented a piece of science communication; here in Germany, too, there were many quick contributions on Corona – for example a video by Mai-Thi Nguyen-Kim, which became the most watched video on Youtube in Germany in 2020. Is it a good time to be a science communicator or are you facing a lot of headwinds too?
I feel it very much. I could send you a collection of emails exposing me to massive abuse. I've been involved in vaccine development for 40 years and I'm just simply convinced of this topic. I have seen what vaccinations have meant for our health system in the past and that will also be the case here, even if the opponents of vaccination form.
I know that these cannot be proselytized, which is why I do not argue with hardcore anti-vaccination opponents, nor with people who do not believe in the existence of Corona. That then falls into the category of people who believe that the earth is flat. There are still incorrigible people who do not want to accept the facts.
What bothers me, however, is that anti-vaccination campaigners are so active in the media and on the Internet and are therefore represented too much. The danger is that a medical-scientific treatise is not as catchy as a conspiracy theory.
How high do you think the proportion of those who stand between those who are in favor of and those who oppose vaccination is? Statistics for Germany point to almost 40 percent who are convinced. The rest are unsure or against.
It's similar in Austria, I believe that the vast majority are not yet convinced. Half of these people, a total of 25 to 30 percent, need even more convincing arguments. And about twelve percent of the total could be persuaded with a lot of effort, that really needs good communication.
Despite all the criticism, I personally liked the videos of the Robert Koch Institute on prevention. You have to put it in a language that the population understands, with a lot of humor. And what is also very important: You need influencers and testimonials who bring the idea to the general public. They shouldn't necessarily be politicians, but rather personalities. who are in public life and are convinced of the vaccination, because it must not be half-hearted either.
What do you think of the move by Ethics Council member Stefan Augsberg to introduce compulsory vaccinations in certain professional groups?
I am fundamentally an opponent of the obligation to vaccinate, because when it comes to vaccination obligations, the fronts always harden and those who oppose vaccination have always found ways and means to circumvent the obligation. So it went nowhere. If you introduce them through the back door, that is, as a requirement for the exercise of certain professions, that didn't make me happy either, but I could accept it. However, only if the vaccination is able to influence transmission, for example in the case of employees in the care and health sector.
We already have this rule for measles, for example with baby carers. But it would also be the very last resort in the health professions, because these are a sensitive area. The people there have dealt with the matter, and you can achieve a lot more with persuasion. Unfortunately we have health professionals in Austria, including doctors, who say that they do not want to be vaccinated. If you ask them why, however, no factual arguments come up. That is regrettable because then one cannot discuss appropriately.
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