There is no such thing as one hundred percent protection

Recently, numbers from Great Britain caused a stir: Of the 117 people who died of Covid-19 in one week, 50 were double-vaccinated. What does this mean for the individual risk?

More than 40 percent of those who died in the UK within a week of corona infection had previously received two doses of vaccine. There is great uncertainty: So are the vaccinations not working?

One thing is certain: Great Britain is struggling with the much more contagious one Delta-Variant of Coronavirus. This mutant, which appeared for the first time in India, is now also predominant in Germany. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), 59 percent of all new infections in this country are due to this variant.

Vaccines are more than 90 percent effective

According to a study by the British health authority Public Health England (PHE), the vaccines also work against the Delta variant. Two vaccinations with the active ingredient from Biontech / Pfizer prevented inpatient treatment in 96 percent of the cases. For the Astrazeneca vaccine, the rate was 92 percent. Now Biontech / Pfizer announced that they want to increase the vaccination protection with a third vaccination.

One thing is clear: the vaccine does not work 100 percent. Risk groups remain the elderly and people with a weakened immune system, such as patients who are dependent on drugs that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants) or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. They often do not form an adequate immune response.

This leads to the paradoxical situation that the further the vaccination campaign advances, the more deaths there are in these risk groups. You were the first to be vaccinated. The younger unvaccinated people have a comparatively very low risk of death and are therefore not included in the death statistics.

Learning to live with the residual risk

There is still a residual risk of a corona infection with a severe or even fatal course of the disease. What does this mean for each individual? t-online spoke to risk researcher Ortwin Renn, one of the scientific directors of the Institute for Transformative Sustainability Research in Potsdam.

t-online: Mr. Renn, why do we feel so unsettled by figures like those from Great Britain? One thing is clear: there is no one hundred percent protection in life, neither with Corona nor anywhere else.

Ortwin Renn: That’s true. But we humans find it difficult to accept that. We will never achieve one hundred percent protection against Corona. But people like to orient themselves to the formula: if A then B. So: If I am vaccinated, I am protected. But that’s not 100 percent true.

Nevertheless, the probability of falling seriously ill or even dying as a person who has been vaccinated twice is very low. From the time when the alpha variant dominated, there were figures from Israel that only 0.1 percent of those vaccinated were infected at all. And only a fraction of them had to go to hospital. So the risk is negligible.

But why does it still scare us?

This is the same effect as playing the lottery, only the other way around. In the lottery, the chance of winning the main prize is 1 in 140 million. Still, people play week after week because they believe: I could be the one. When it comes to Corona, they think: I could be the rare unlucky person who, despite vaccination infected and maybe even die.

This is a similar phenomenon to the discussions about the vaccine by Astrazeneca …

Correct. The chance of developing cerebral vein thrombosis after vaccination with Astrazeneca is 1 in 100,000. That means they don’t get 99,999. Nevertheless, it was easy to overreact. Instead of carefully weighing the risk and benefit of the vaccination, vaccinations with the vaccine were first suspended and then recommended for a different age group. The consequence: the vaccine became slow-moving.

People often react irrationally. What reactions do you generally observe in the event of risks such as the risk of a corona infection?

We distinguish between three different types:

The escape type is extremely insecure and feels very vulnerable. These people have rarely left the house since the beginning of the pandemic and did not even go shopping.

The combative type cannot take the stress test without doing something. It can go one way or the other. When there were spatially limited corona outbreaks last year, for example, cars were scratched by people who had driven from the affected district to another. So you tried to protect your surroundings in this aggressive way.

But combative types also produce very positive things. For example, neighborhood help was organized to go shopping for the elderly.

And then there is the type who fades out or ignores the danger. That makes us in the pandemicbfighting most problems. These are people who just don’t take notice of the danger. They don’t find out about that Virus and only adhere to the imposed rules if it is controlled from outside.

At home or in private, however, they usually just carry on as before. These people often consider themselves invulnerable and so quickly become virus spreaders.

And then, for example, also tend towards conspiracy theories?

Yes, we see that again and again in crises. In addition to the usual opponents of vaccination, who either deny the existence of viruses in general or believe, for religious-naturalistic reasons, that nature and / or God already regulates all of this, there are those people who suspect a great dark plan of villains behind everything.

Depending on the form, it is about the nasty pharmaceutical industry that invents pandemics in order to sell its products. Or a global elite that rules the world as a secret power and acts ruthlessly against all supposed opponents.

Some people react to this corona shock with particular skepticism and, even as people who have been vaccinated twice, continue to shy away from human contact. The phenomenon became known under the term “Cave Syndrome”. How do you assess this: When will the situation normalize?

Cave syndrome only affects a relatively small group of people. I expect that we will find the post-corona normality relatively soon. Maybe we need to get vaccinated every year, similar to the flu.

If the danger of a fourth wave can be averted in autumn, I expect that post-corona normality will be there by the beginning of next year at the latest. However, some side effects are to be expected. Things like home office or digital conferences instead of business trips have ultimately proven their worth. One can assume that this different way of working will remain. Or the question of whether it is really that important to have to consume a lot and constantly. One has in the Lockdown seen: You can do that without. That would be positive effects of the pandemic.


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