It’s a Tuesday in early March and I’m queuing in front of the vaccination center at the Hamburg Convention Center. I have on hand the QR code of my vaccination appointment, printed and well packaged in a clear sheet protector. I may have exaggerated it a bit, but the old man in front of me has done the same.
Everyone here, the helpers and people who are among the first millions of Germans to receive a coronavirus vaccine, is reverently calm. I told very few people I came here today. I can not believe.
A door opens into a large living room, which reveals tidy queues with a letter A illuminated in a line for AstraZeneca and a B for BioNTech / Pfizer. The old man in front of me becomes with his walker the BioNTech / Pfizer line. A nice helper tells me, “I don’t want to offend you, miss, but it looks like you’re here for AstraZeneca.” Line A.
At the time of my appointment, based on a recommendation from the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO), only people between the ages of 18 and 64 can be vaccinated with AstraZeneca in Germany because important data on people aged 65 or over are still missing. month. It is largely the medical staff who gets it. And people like me, young people who belong to priority group 2 due to chronic diseases.
Just before I get my fist punched at the vaccination center, the doctor says, “We’ve all overcome it ourselves.” At this point, the syringe is already inside.
When I leave the vaccination center that morning, I feel lighter than in a year. This feeling continues for the next few days, even though I am sleeping in bed and experiencing severe reactions to the vaccine because I know this is normal. I celebrate my immune system and the vaccine.
But this is not a story about gratitude. It’s about trust. How quickly you can get lost. And how hard it is to find it again, no matter how hard you try.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn passes in front of the cameras. Announces the temporary suspension of COVID-19 vaccines using the drug developed by AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company. The Paul Ehrlich Institute, Germany’s federal medical regulatory body, writes that a remarkable number of rare cases of cerebral vein thrombosis have passed suspiciously near the time of vaccination. Spahn says the measure is purely a precautionary measure. And that “there is no risk to the vast majority of people.”
Damn, I believe for myself.
That afternoon, I find it hard to take my eyes off Twitter. I spend hours looking for tweets to calm me down, but what I find is anger, clueless, and confusion. And it is useless if you are angry, clueless and confused.
One headline is as follows: Denmark suspends vaccines. Slovenia stops vaccines. Spain leaves the vaccines. France stops vaccinating. Then comes Karl Lauterbach, a member of the federal parliament who is the leading health expert for his center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). “I think that’s a mistake,” he says. Later, he adds, “I do not know any analysis that justifies this suspension.”
I think: I hope you’re right.
During the editorial meeting the next morning, a colleague noted that Switzerland and the United States did not even approve of the use of AstraZeneca. Another says vaccines were stopped in Norway and never resumed. I wonder: why? I read that the disease occurs mostly in young women. I am about to write to a friend. But what am I supposed to write? “I’ve been vaccinated, I’m scared”?
I can’t sleep two nights.
I don’t want to give in to panic. I don’t want skepticism to keep eating in my head. It won’t affect you, Maria. Everything is fine. But how to capture fear once out of the bottle? How do you get out of the feeling that something might be wrong with the vaccine? That you may have allowed something dangerous to be injected into your own body?
I open the laptop with a turn. I want to dispel my panic with the facts, like the fear of a ghost. But words don’t do the job. When I read “very rarely” in an article, the bull in my head for “it could be like this”. When I read, “based on what we know,” I interpret it as, “We still lack experience with the vaccine.”
Numbers are more useful. I write the number of cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis on a piece of paper and make up for it with the number of people vaccinated. At this point, of the first 1.6 million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered in Germany, seven cases of cerebral venous thrombosis have been reported. In other words, there is one case in every 229,000 vaccines. Very, very few. I write it in my notebook.
In fact, I just want to let go of my fear of someone without being judged.
The DER SPIEGEL website reports that 13 incidents have now been reported in Germany related to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Two days earlier, I saw a video of a doctor administering vaccines in Cologne. It says, “Astra is a super vaccine.”
I am writing to my former host family in the UK, where AstraZeneca is the only vaccine that was given at that time. “Dear Angela, have you been vaccinated yet? With AstraZeneca? How are you?” Angela writes again that she and her husband received their first shots three weeks earlier: “Some side effects, but nothing serious.” She writes that she had not heard anything about thrombosis and says that everyone in London calls AstraZeneca’s medicine “the Oxford vaccine”.
The Oxford vaccine. Wow. I think: that’s how we should have called it too.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is behind its decision to recommend the medicine, saying the vaccine is “safe and effective”. Vaccinations are resumed in Germany.
I am getting calmer.
I’m not fine. I’m irritable. Every post I write takes all my strength. I will jog at night hoping to clear my mind. I have my legs as if I were dragging a heavy blanket. Do I have trouble breathing? I cut my career and headed home very slowly. Later, I have a headache. I almost never have a headache.
My father sends me a WhatsApp photo of an article in an Augsburg city newspaper: “The death of the comrade and the terror triggers.” A nurse at a hospital in the nearby city of Immenstadt reportedly died 17 days after being vaccinated with AstraZeneca. He had gone to the emergency room with a severe headache. Immenstadt is a few kilometers from my hometown. Again, I think myself: fucked up.
When a case happens near your parents ’house, a very, very small probability suddenly feels very high. I leave the phone on while I go to bed. I put an ibuprofen in my mouth. I think it’s a blood anticoagulant. I don’t sleep. In the morning I write an email to my former family doctor in Bavaria, whom I trust a lot.
“Hi, you can probably file this on hypochondriacs, but … I’m just looking forward to … risk of thrombosis … from all the reports we’re reading right now …”
Again, what I really want is to let go of my anxiety to someone else without feeling judged. I’m going to the park. I look at myself and my fear like a figure in a dollhouse. When you’re healthy, don’t spend time thinking about how lucky you are to be healthy. He goes through life with little fear, even though the real dangers are hidden around him all the time. I bet there are risk researchers who can compare the likelihood of dying in a car accident with the risk of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. We are vulnerable all the time. But we are also usually very good at blocking it.
This has not been the case since the pandemic. We constantly think about avoidance strategies. We are pulling emergency brakes. Suddenly, a otherwise very nebulous danger feels very real, to the point that you fear losing your health suddenly. It seems absurd to me that the biggest fear I have in this pandemic is the very medicine that can keep me healthy and maybe even save my life.
The Bavarian family doctor replies, “Dear Maria, … if you have persistent shortness of breath and a drop in energy, go to your family doctor immediately and let them know what are known as D dimers. This is a coagulation value that is used for thrombosis and, if it is negative, you are sure to have nothing to worry about. “
It immediately makes me feel better. In my response, I apologize for contacting me in the first place.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is on television. The “Anne Will” program. I can’t look at it, even though the control of political conversation is unofficially part of my job description as a journalist. I’m afraid Merkel could say something about vaccines and that, in general, nothing has gone wrong.
I yell at my computer while playing the live stream – do you even know what you’re doing to me?
DER SPIEGEL: STIKO website only recommends AstraZeneca for people over 60
In Germany, 31 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis have now been reported. Of these cases, 29 were in women. We died.
Health Minister Spahn and Chancellor Merkel appear before the cameras. They announce that younger people can continue to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca if they wish “at the doctor’s discretion and after being informed and provided with an individualized risk analysis.”
I think to myself, “At your own risk” is not really what I need right now.
A Minister of Health who takes his job seriously has no choice but to make decisions based on the facts. I know. But I keep yelling at my computer screen while playing live playback. Do you know what you do to me? Do you know what it does to me when you no longer have confidence in the vaccine you prescribed me?
Merkel: “Communication is very important right now.”
Spahn: “Vaccinating is almost always the best decision.”
Merkel: “However, I have no idea what the message is.
Meanwhile, explains health expert SPD Lauterbach Rheinische Post daily, “People who have already been vaccinated with AstraZeneca have nothing to fear now.”
Bavarian Governor Markus Söder says he no longer expects AstraZeneca’s vaccine to be “sold like hot cakes.”
So what happens on June 1, the date of my second vaccination? STIKO is still reviewing to this day whether people like me, who have already received the first stroke of AstraZeneca, could get a different vaccine for the second dose.
I am confused and very, very tired.
For the past year, I’ve been waking up in the morning and checking infection rates in the same way I did to check the weather. I divide friends into homes. I have embedded some very large cotton swabs in my breasts. I acted as if I could understand the intangible threat of a virus. But I can not. If I really can’t imagine a risk of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis after being vaccinated with AstraZeneca, maybe taking responsibility for my health means this: handing it over to other people.
That’s probably the point where I should stop writing, because I don’t think there’s a really good place to end this story. Then I see a blog post on Instagram The weather.
“President Steinmeier has received his first coronavirus vaccination. The German head of state received a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the military hospital in Berlin.”
Steinmeier says he relies on vaccines approved in Germany. And then he sends a message to the rest of the country, myself included, “Take advantage of the opportunities. Be a part of that.”
Maria Stöhr, 30, is the editor of DER SPIEGEL’s Foreign Desk and is part of the team responsible for Global societies section.