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Why were German politicians so eager to vaccinate children, and why are they lying about it now?

Why were German politicians so eager to vaccinate children, and why are they lying about it now?
Photo by Mufid Majnun / Unsplash

Here is a riddle:

Why were German politicians so eager, in summer 2021, to vaccinate children? Why did they place public pressure on vaccine regulators to recommend child vaccination?

Even a few months ago, I would’ve said this was no great mystery. Before August 2021, everybody still operated on the insane assumption that the vaccines would eradicate Covid. They believed (or professed to believe) that a vaccination rate in excess of some magic number would end the pandemic, and that magic number was presumed to be unachievable if children were spared the jabs. I’d still say that was the case, but a recent news story has caused me to consider this question more deeply. Where did the specific pressure come from? What drove, for example, random regional ministers of education to mount their own appeals to vaccinate schoolchildren? What did these dumb people ever know about viruses or reproduction numbers or population immunity? What was going on?

There has been a lot of talk in the German press about the need for an appraisal of pandemic policies. This talk has flowed in directly inverse proportion to anybody’s willingness to actually appraise anything. Almost the only exception is the state parliament of Brandenburg, where Alternative für Deutschland are strong enough to have forced the convening of a Corona Investigatory Committee. The revelations so far have been extremely eye-opening, despite the limitation of the inquiry to Brandenburg and substantial obstruction from the political establishment.

The Committee publishes no protocols, many of their sessions are closed to the public, and with a few exceptions the media studiously avoids reporting on their work. Nevertheless, every time its members meet, something new and very bizarre comes to light. During their third session, in October, the Committee summoned Britta Ernst, Minister of Education in Brandenburg from 2017 to 2023, and also since 1998 the wife of Chancellor Olaf Scholz. At one point in the proceedings, Saskia Ludwig asked Ernst a very important question, namely the one that stands at the head of this post:

Why did Ernst advocate the vaccination of children in 2021?

The Nordkurier reports on the exchange that ensued:

Ernst had always campaigned in favour of vaccination and said in November 2021 that a “high vaccination rate” was “crucial for child welfare.” Ludwig asked … whether Ernst would repeat this statement given the current level of knowledge about the risk of side effects when vaccinating children against Covid.

Ernst … replied that the recommendation of STIKO [the Standing Committee on Vaccination] had been decisive for her.

STIKO “set the standard” and she had “no doubts about the work of STIKO,” which is why she had “naturally adopted their findings, which they make on a scientific basis.” Regarding her statement from November 2021, she said: “I suspect that this quote regarding the vaccination rate referred primarily to adults.” Ernst continued: “In addition, STIKO also recommended the vaccination of children and adolescents, and we followed this recommendation.”

In other words, Ernst was just Following the Science. She was just doing what the expert regulators of STIKO told her to do.

Except, that’s not true at all. Ernst was calling for the vaccination of teenagers as early as July 2021, well before that body had made any such recommendation. She was circulating flyers among Brandenburg schoolchildren that assured them they might even be able to get vaccinated without their parents’ permission. And what is more, she was even demanding that STIKO expand their recommendation to include everyone over 12 years of age.

From an rbb return-to-school article published on 29 July 2021:

The new school year begins in Brandenburg in just over a week. Primary school pupils will then be required to wear masks and there will continue to be plenty of ventilation. The Minister of Education believes that schools are in a good position - but there is still a need for action when it comes to vaccination.

Brandenburg's Education Minister Britta Ernst (SPD) is calling for children and young people to be vaccinated from the age of 12 …

Until now, the Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) has advised that 12 to 16-year-olds should only be vaccinated if they have certain preexisting conditions. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has already approved the vaccines from Moderna and Biontech/Pfizer for this age group.

Ernst called on STIKO to issue a clear recommendation in favour of these vaccinations. The committee has already established that the incidence of infection among children is not dangerous and that illnesses among children are not severe. “This gives us further support in favour of opening schools,” Ernst said. A clear recommendation from STIKO, however, would be “helpful in any case, because many parents are naturally unsure how they should act.”

It wasn’t just Ernst. The day before, the Minister President of Brandenburg, Dietmar Woidke, had also renewed his demands that STIKO approve the vaccines for healthy adolescents:

On rbb television, Brandenburg’s Minister President Dietmar Woidke (SPD) once again called for the vaccination of children aged twelve and over to be considered. “STIKO already recommends vaccination for children with pre-existing conditions,” Woidke said. He would welcome it if … STIKO were to make a recommendation for the vaccination of adolescents in view of the spread of the Delta variant. According to Woidke, Delta has increased the risks for children and adolescents. STIKO must now weigh “the risk posed by Covid and the risk that vaccines may pose to younger age groups.”

Confronted with these contradictions at the Committee last month, Ernst became oddly evasive. She said vaguely that “many parents were waiting for a recommendation from STIKO” and that she “seem[ed] to remember that children in other countries were already vaccinated.” She did not refer to Woidke or describe any broader discussions within the Brandenburg government, although demands for child vaccination were clearly bigger than her. Nor did she refer to pressure from teachers’ organisations or any specific epidemiological goals.

The excuse about parental pressure is very strange and unsatisfying, when you think about it. First, the vaccines had already been approved by the EMA for the 12-and-up group. Parents who really wanted to jab their kids just had to find a willing doctor. Second, and more importantly, it is not the job of state education ministers to pass the concerns of local jab-crazed parents on to national medical regulatory bodies in the media. Why can’t Ernst clearly describe her motives? Where did the demand to vaccinate children come from?

At another revealing moment, Ludwig asked Ernst about a pro-vaccine flyer  circulated among Brandenburg schoolchildren. This flyer assured kids that “There are hardly any long-term side effects; the vaccine is broken down quickly by the body.” It also enthused that “In some cases, you can even be vaccinated without your parents’ consent.” Here, too, Ernst had no good answers. She would say only that the flyer merely described “the legal situation” and “that underage girls are given contraceptives by doctors without parental consent.”

I looked into this flyer, which is a creepy exercise in marketing vaccines to children. The version that was circulated in Thüringen is still online:

Ernst couldn’t say much about its contents because it came from on high. The flyer was funded by the Thüringen Health and Education ministries, and masterminded by odious health communicator, Erfurt professor and villain-of-the-blog Cornelia Betsch. In later months, Betsch would go on to advise the government on how to nudge German vaccine uptake higher. We are dealing with the upper reaches of the German vaccinator-industrial complex here, in other words. The flyer was designed according to interviews its authors conducted with teenagers at the Henfling Gymnasium in Meiningen, for the purposes of figuring out out how best to manipulate kids into getting excited about vaccines.

There are two things about this document that make it extremely obnoxious. The first is that it is full of highly manipulative propaganda. It tells children that “The virus spreads primarily among the unvaccinated,” that “if you are not vaccinated, you have a greater risk of becoming infected,” that “the virus is becoming more contagious,” that “it is very rare to be infected despite vaccination and it is rare to infect others” and that “if you are vaccinated, you also protect others who can’t be vaccinated.” It contains a specific section explaining that the vaccines won’t impact fertility, and so I expect it was targeted specifically at girls, for whom the get-vaccinated-to-protect-your-family subtext would be especially effective.

The second obnoxious point is that this flyer, advising teenagers to seek the jabs even in the absence of parental permission and providing them with the contact information of local vaccination centres, was published on 14 July 2021. That is, it came out in advance of any official STIKO recommendation that this age group should be jabbed at all, and just two weeks before leading Brandenburg politicians like Ernst and Woidke began calling for STIKO to expand their recommendations to include teenagers.

There was, then, an unauthorised child vaccination campaign underway in summer 2021, which consisted of vaccine propaganda circulated to school children on the one hand, public pressure on vaccine regulators on the other hand, and who knows what else on however many other hands. It was timed around the summer holidays, for the clear purpose of scaring children into seeking the jabs before they returned to school. For some reason, Ernst will not tell the Brandenburg parliament why she participated in this campaign, and she will not say who its orchestrators were.

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