Who are Germany’s Anti-Vaxxers?

 by Thomas Klikauer and Meg Young


Germany’s anti-vaxxers are people who refuse to be vaccinated against, for example, the Corona virus. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and others, there are six common delusions about vaccines. Anti-vaxxers believe that Covid-19 is in a decline and not dangerous. Therefore, they do not need to be vaccinated. They also think – wrongly – that many people who get diseases have been vaccinated. And they are convinced that the vaccine is unsafe and causes harmful side effects, illnesses, and death.

Yet, they also hang on to the misconception that Covid-19 is no longer prevalent and, therefore there is no need to get vaccinated. Finally, some anti-vaxxers even think that the Coronavirus pandemic is part of the worldwide conspiracy to establish a so-called global health dictatorship – a Gesundheistsdiktatur.

According to a recent poll (5th August 2021), 83% of all Germans said, they are in favour of being vaccinated against the Corona virus. Just 4% said, it is likely that they will get vaccinated; a further 4% said it is unlikely that they will get vaccinated; and 8% said that they will definitely not get vaccinated. If one combines the “unlikely” with the “will not get vaccinated”, one might say that about 12% of Germans are anti-vaxxers – while the vast majority of Germans (88%) are getting vaccinated.

While 12% is a small minority, German anti-vaxxers are very vocal in particular, when holding so-called hygiene rallies where some people are ornamented with the infamous tin-foil hat. An aluminium hat will protect them against evil rays, so the fantasy goes. One of such hygiene rallies took place in Germany’s capital Berlin where in August 2020, with an estimated 40,000 gathering in Germany’s capital.

The crowd included right-wing populists, right-wing extremists, and Neo-Nazis. Pre-dating the Donald Trump inspired right-wing riot at Washington’s Capitol Hill on the 6th January 2021 that caused five deaths, German rioters attacked the parliament. The reactionary mob made it to the entrance before being repelled by the police.

As Germany’s Coronavirus pandemic measure took effect over the winter 2020/2021, German anti-vaxxers failed to mobilise numbers as seen during the attack on the parliament. During the course of spring and summer 2021, their numbers declined. As the number of anti-vaxxers attending hygiene rallies dropped, violent acts still occurred. By the middle of September 2021, a 49-year old anti-vaxxer killed a 20-year old petrol station attendant after being asked to wear a face mask in a local town called Idar-Oberstein.

It is not uncommon to find that such anti-vaxxers believe in conspiracy theories. As a matter of fact, these conspiracy theories are not theories but simple fantasies. As a consequence, the term conspiracy fantasies is better suited to describe their hallucinations. One of the hypotheses that might explain German anti-vaxxers is to describe what they have been fallen prey of with the unpronounceable word Kompensationshyothese or compensation hypothesis.

By this, Germans mean that people who believe in conspiracy fantasies compensate for a perceived loss of control over their immediate life affairs. This is often caused by social raptures like transition from socialism to capitalism in former East-Germany, natural disasters, and the Coronavirus pandemic. Believing in conspiracy fantasies creates a feeling of security based on semi-plausible explanations for what is happening.

Not surprisingly and given the harsh transition of former East-Germany towards capitalism that turned their world up side down, Germans living in the former East-Germany tend to be more prone to believe in conspiracy fantasies.

Former East-Germans are also more likely to reject Germany’s democratic institutions and they are also more likely to be dissatisfied with the concept of democracy in general. As a consequence, they also tend to vote for Germany’s most anti-democratic and Neo-Nazi party, the AfD – a party that promises tough rule, order, and a strong Führer.

Since the bond between German anti-vaxxers and democracy is rather weak, anti-vaxxers seek out non-democratic explanations and institutions. Relatively quickly they arrive at conspiracy theories or conspiracy fantasies. Conspiracy fantasies’ websites transfer them into the orbit of right-wing populism and the AfD. Once inside the echo-chambers of Germany’s right-wing, anti-democratic ideologies become the name of the game and soon forms of authoritarian protest become more prevalent. All of this directs them further and further away from democratic institutions such as parliaments and political parties.

Increasingly, this dis-associates people from Germany’s democratic society. The move is further enhanced through conspiracy fantasies that feed on xenophobia while manipulating reality, which makes them believe that non-Germans are threatening Germany’s existence.

In a second step, it transitions people towards, inhuman ideologies such as, for example, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, Nazism, etc. Worse, it also increases support for violent means to achieve the ideological goals of Germany’s right-wing, while simultaneously lowering the willingness to use brutality to save their beloved anti-democratic and race-based Volksgemeinschaft from unwarranted elements.

Of course, this operates in the Nazi-lawyer Schmittian “friend-vs.-foe” dichotomy. This old Nazi ideology still demands that the enemy will be destroyed. This neo-fascistic belief is supported by adjacent conspiracy fantasies that tells Germans that they are endangered by foreigners, i.e. a non-German and non-Aryan. And, that a global elite seeks to establish a new world order run by the rich and powerful.

Many German anti-vaxxers have been made to believe that the process of establishing a new world order is well on the way, even in Germany. Not surprisingly, 43% of German anti-vaxxers believe that the current Corona measures will never be taken back. For 36%, these measures are a threat to democracy. Suddenly, the much loathed democracy appears among right-wing anti-vaxxers. Unexpectedly, democracy is declared to be under threat by those people who resent a democratic government.

Much of this is supported by a general disbelief in official government numbers about the Coronavirus pandemic. Hence, 43% of German anti-vaxxers distrust those numbers while 27% imagine that the Coronavirus pandemic is not as dangerous as presented.

Significantly and somewhat surprisingly, more than half (57%) of German anti-vaxxers do not give conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic much credence. In other words, even among anti-vaxxers, not all believe in conspiracy fantasies. Still, 24% believe in conspiracy fantasies “somewhat”.

Disturbingly, 18% of all anti-vaxxers “fully trust” conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic. Overall, one might say that those anti-vaxxers who disbelieve official statements about the Coronavirus pandemic also tend to believe in conspiracy fantasies – both are linked.

Support for the “distrusting-government n belief-in-conspiracy-fantasies” link has changed over time. At the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, 26% said that restrictions against the Coronavirus pandemic will threaten democracy. Throughout 2020, this number increased to 30% and by mid-2021, the number had reached 36%. Simultaneously, many anti-vaxxers believed that these measures will never be taken back. By mid-2021, 43% believed that to be the case.

By November 2021, 28% agreed with the statement, the Coronavirus pandemic is used by the rich and powerful to get what they want. When it comes to conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic in general, there is no significant difference between male (19%) and female (18%).

There is, however, a difference between West Germany and former East-Germany. In the West, 17% tend to agree with conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic while in former East-Germany it is 27%. Yet, there is also a marked difference between age groups. The belief in conspiracy fantasies remains high among those aged between 26 and 45, while it declines markedly for those aged above 56.

Furthermore, believing in conspiracy fantasies also declines with an increase in educational achievements. Only 11% of those with higher educational levels (Abitur) believe in conspiracy fantasies, while 26% of those with lower educational levels (Hauptschule) believe in conspiracy fantasies. Similarly, the belief in conspiracy fantasies decreases with rising income. In other words, believers in conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic are young, uneducated, and have a low income.

Self-evidently, the belief in conspiracy fantasies influences voting patterns and support for political parties. Those who tend to vote for Germany’s environmental party, the Greens are the most immune against conspiracy fantasies. Only 4% of those believe in conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic.

Simultaneously, it is the highest for those tending to vote for Germany’s right-wing extremists party, the AfD. A whopping 61% of those believe in conspiracy fantasies. Surprisingly, about 15% of supporters for Germany’s only neoliberal party, the FDP, believe in conspiracy fantasies. Meanwhile, just 7% do so, who support Merkel’s conservative CDU and Germany’s social-democratic SPD (6%).

Most interestingly, roughly half of those Germans who have not been vaccinated believe in myths and conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic. They are also Germany’s hard-core anti-vaxxers. 82% of un-vaccinated conspiracy fantasies believers say, no! I will definitely not be vaccinated.

Many of these numbers indicated that the rejection of official statements about the Coronavirus pandemic is not a fringe problem in Germany. Instead, it reaches deep into the centre of German society. Since the studies on Germany’s political centre began – appropriately called Mitte-Studie or Centre Study – sociologists have been examining what Germany’s political centre believes.

Today, one might argue that some conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic have truly arrived at the core of German society where at least some believe in the conspiracy fantasy of a new world order – the Great Reset – that will be established in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Sadly, believers in such conspiracy fantasies have not immunised themselves against the Corona virus. Yet, they have immunised themselves against facts. Many of them can no longer be reached by scientific evidence, facts, logic, experimental, and methodologically proven verifications.

Overall, and given the data presented above which are based on 5,000 to 7,000 Germans, the following seven overall conclusions on conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic can be drawn:

  1. Those Germans with low income and lower education achievement are more prone to believe in conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic;
  2. Those who are directly impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic – e.g. younger workers who cannot move to their home office (e.g. the kitchen table) – are disproportionally more likely to believe in conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic;
  3. The belief is strong among younger people with jobs in the service and manufacturing industry;
  4. Those people who have not been vaccinated and have – so far – not contracted the Corona virus are also more likely to believe in conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic;
  5. People in former East-Germany are more likely to believe in conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic compared to Germans living in the western parts of Germany.
  6. Worse, many Germans believing in conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic have disassociated themselves from Germany’s democratic society;
  7. Even more devastating is the fact that Germany’s Neo-Nazi, the AfD, is the only political party that services people who believe in conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the AfD failed to capitalise on this in Germany’s 2021 election losing 2.3% of voter support and elven seats in Germany’s federal parliament.

In the end, German anti-vaxxers believing in conspiracy fantasies about the Coronavirus pandemic are not a sizable part of Germany’s society. If the 8% hard-core anti-vaxxer, who say they will not get vaccinated, are taken as a measure, hard-core anti-vaxxers are a small minority.

Despite the fact that conspiracy fantasies believing anti-vaxxers are a small minority, they are a highly visible group particularly when it comes to the so-called hygiene rallies and the shooting of a petrol station attendant.

Yet, the typical German conspiracy fantasy believer seems to live in former East-Germany, is young, is directly effected by the Coronavirus pandemic (job loss, etc.), has low levels of educational achievements, a low income and has not – yet –contracted the Corona virus.

All too often, they live in a parallel world defined by a rejection of Germany’s quality media while simultaneously believing what they see and read inside anti-vaxxer echo-chambers – which are driven by the algorithms of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, TikTok, Telegram, etc. pushing the most sensational claim rather then the most factual claim.

Worse than all of this is the fact that German anti-vaxxers have disassociated themselves from Germany’s democratic society. They live in the parallel world of conspiracy fantasies engineered, in part, by those who see a business opportunity, those who reject modernity and democracy, and increasingly more often, those who harbour right-wing extremists’ ideology and are outright Neo-Nazis.

Thomas Klikauer has 670 publications including a book on Managerialism and a textbook on human resource management.

Meg Young is a professional number cruncher and Pomeranian lover who enjoys good books, foreign films and music.

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