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Who are my unvaccinated friends and why didn’t they get their jabs?

Our Editor-in-Chief spoke to five unvaccinated friends and asked them why they didn't get their shots.

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Why have over 30 percent of Berliners decided not to get their Corona vaccination? Our Editor-in-Chief spoke to five friends about their views. Photo: IMAGO / Stefan Zeitz

Over 30 percent of Berliners aren’t allowed on public transportation anymore unless they show a negative test. From Saturday they won’t be let into shops, restaurants, theatres or swimming pools. Most have been asked to stay at home by their employers. If they don’t have a car, or can’t afford a cab (taxis are strangely exempt from the 3G rule), it will be difficult for them to ride the U-Bahn. 

These are the “unvaccinated”, i.e. my fellow citizens who for whatever reason didn’t follow government advice to get their two jabs. Take RR, an unvaccinated colleague of mine. From Wednesday, he’s had to pass an official test centre every morning before getting on the S-Bahn. He’s barred from entering the office unless he can show his negative test. What’s more, he’s got to face bemused, occasionally reproachful, stares from some colleagues. 

This made me wonder: why wouldn’t RR get vaccinated like everyone else in our office and be left alone? 

It wasn’t the first time I’d come across someone who, despite scientific consensus, growing restrictions and peer pressure, simply didn’t get their jabs. Many don’t say it aloud because they’d rather avoid the guilt-trips and the shaming that comes from being part of what has been by now dubbed an “epidemic of the unvaccinated”. 

I looked around me for those who decided to opt out. I wanted to understand their reasoning. I also wanted to show that many aren’t the conspiracy theorists they’re often portrayed as. They’re not science deniers either, and all the people I found had been vaccinated in the past. So why not this time?

Leo V, 60, entrepreneur, Corona-vaccine sceptic: “I have weighed the risk benefit of this vaccine, I’m not convinced.”

Leo V is surprisingly well informed about stats and Covid-19 developments the world over. He has followed the numbers on a daily basis and weighed up the long term risk of new mRNA tech and assessed the side effects he observed on one hand, and the promised benefits on the other: “I told myself I’d wait and see. But then I look around and there’s no sign that this vaccine protects people from being infected. Many of my friends got pretty sick after two jabs, and it wasn’t even 5 months later ! So what’s the point?” 

Is he anti-vax? “I get my vaccinations every 10 years. My vaccine-pass is top notch.” So why not this time? “My chances of dying are very small,” he continues, citing a 0.04% in his age category. “I’ve got a greater chance of getting sick with the virus despite the vaccine, than of getting seriously sick.” He’s been collecting official data here and in countries all over the world. He cites growing numbers of hospitalised among the vaccinated here in Germany – “Among my age category (60+) half the people who died in German hospitals were vaccinated, and it’s rising. In Israel it’s the overwhelming majority, I wonder why people are so blind and keep believing in that vaccine” His conclusion? Until someone shows me a vaccine that really works, I’ll opt out, and find my own way through the epidemic“ he says referring to the €70 he spent on a fake “Genesen” certificate.

Do you believe in vaccinations? Yes (all vaxxed)

Do you believe the virus exists? Yes, but it’s not as dangerous as they make it seem

How do you protect yourself? Tests and masks

How will you deal with the  new 3G restrictions? I have a fake “genesen” certificate

Irina: 35, cleaner, unwillingly unvaccinated “I wish I could get my jabs, and now I’m so scared they’ll deport me”

“When I got on the U-Bahn platform on Wednesday and I read the message on the LED sign – ‘from now on it’s 3G rule …Guten Fahrt’, I froze,” says Irina. “I felt as if everyone was staring at me, so I immediately went back home and canceled all my shifts. I don’t know what to do. I already tried to get vaccinated, but everyone tells me it’s not possible for me.” 

Irina is from the Ukraine. She moved here to live with her Russian-German partner 10 years ago but somehow never managed to sort out her legal situation. She’s been here on visas from Poland, but since Covid-19, she hasn’t been able to renew them. She works 60 hours a week from Monday to Saturday cleaning homes in Berlin. All on the black. “I’ve kept on working throughout the pandemic, hoping for the best. Until now, it wasn’t really a problem. I wear masks and I test myself regularly – at home. I’m on good terms with my employers and no one complained.”  Irina says she won’t take the risk to go to work until she finds a solution. A fake pass isn’t on the table for her, as she’d still need to show her ID to the pharmacist to get her QR code and is too scared to do so. “I’ve heard some doctors help illegal immigrants, I’m looking…”

Do you believe in vaccinations? Yes 

Do you believe the virus exists? Yes

How do you protect yourself? Mask. Home tests.

How will you deal with the new 3G restrictions? I don’t know, yet

Oliver: 32, physiotherapist. Pfizer-BioNTech-resistant  “I’m waiting for a traditional vaccine to get my jab”

“I’ve distrusted that particular vaccine from day one. The mRNA Technology is too new, and got on the market without proper long term assessment of risks. As for its immediate side effects, they’re here, for everyone to observe” says Oliver. “I understand why big labs don’t like to report them too much, but I don’t get why the media cover it so little. It’s crazy!” 

He mentions a colleague who was in bed with a high fever for a full week after her Biotech/Pfizer jab; or a 90-year-old neighbour who passed away – a blood clot – after her first jab. 

“Since when are vaccines supposed to make you so sick?”, he challenges. “And they keep telling us it’s safe but Moderna is now banned in Iceland, and now they advise you against it in Germany too if you’re under 30. Few months ago it was all safe! Hello?? ” His conclusion? “Sorry, I’m not taking that risk, especially now we see it’s not even working so well! I’ll wait until they develop something that works and that I can trust. I’d rather get Sputnik to be honest!”

Do you believe in vaccinations? Some

Do you believe the virus exists? Yes, a friend died 

How do you protect yourself? Masks

How will you deal with the new 3G restrictions? I’ll dodge them somehow. Or wait for a traditional vaccine

Ilya; 71, retired Greek civilisation professor, vaccine-hesitant, turned vaccine resistant. “I know all about political propaganda, and this totally turned me off”

“In the beginning I wasn’t really sure what to think, then I saw how much effort they were putting into pressuring us — the government, the media. No place for a debate. As soon as you expressed a doubt, they’d shame you as a conspiracy theorist.” He brings up the demonstrations of last year. “I was there only once, with friends who like me lived through communist propaganda, in the DDR or in the soviet block… But on TV they only showed the loonies. They called us proto-fascists. It brought back dark memories — media manipulation, the fabrication of consensus…” 

Ilya says it was a turning point. “Then I noticed the conformist effect it had on people. Every time I’d point to something illogical or irrational, even some friends would get angry.” Ilya is 71, a retired teacher of Greek history and civilization, who lived through Soviet communism. His uncle died in a Stalin camp.

“I’ve experienced totalitarian propaganda and I know how it feels, and now I have this bad feeling in my stomach. It tells me ‘no sorry, I’m not going to buy everything you’re trying to jam down my throat.’ First they promised you’d be safe with a vaccine, but only **their** vaccine. Not the Chinese or the Russian one. Doesn’t sound a little weird to you? Now we see it’s not working that well, and they don’t know what to do anymore, they call it an “epidemic of the unvaccinated”. They’re scapegoating fellow citizens. I’ll resist and fight against that.”

Do you believe in vaccinations? My Impfpass is up to date

Do you believe the virus exists? Yes

How do you protect yourself? Tests and masks

How will you deal with the new 3G restrictions? I’m retired, mostly at home, use my car

Sarah: 28, web designer “I got so sick with my first jab, I can’t get myself to go back to the Impfzentrum!”

Sarah is young and rather obedient. “I’m a good girl! When they told us to go and get vaccinated, I got online and booked a slot, like all my colleagues and friends here.” 

Sarah moved from Brussels to Berlin three years ago to work for an international start up. “I first wanted Johnson & Johnson because it was only one shot, but then I read Pfizer or Moderna were safer for younger women.” So Sarah got her BioNTech shot at Tegel impfzentrum last May, “It was so easy, barely any wait and I felt fine so I went back to work after that.” Then in the middle of the night, “I broke a fever. I was aching all over and felt I’d die or something, so I called a friend who’s a doc and she told me not to worry, that it was ‘normal’ – she said normal! – 48h max and I’ll be alright.” The next day, she couldn’t go to  work. “I was unable to move, as if my body was broken and then my neck was so stiff and my head so bursting with pain that my neighbour called the emergency services. They came, tested me (I was negative!) and advised me to stay at  home. Hospitals were on Corona alert anyway and I’d rather stay where I was and let it go away.” But the pain increased, so they called another doctor. “This time he was a weird guy who didn’t speak good German but had good drugs. He gave me morphine! I finally got some relief.” 

The pain kept on for six days and seven nights. “I called my Russian doctor two more times, I could have become a heroin addict out of this!” It took Sarah another week to entirely recover. Did she report her reactions to health authorities? “First everyone told me, it’s fine, it’ll go away! Then I wasn’t in a condition to report anything and make a fuss about a vaccine everyone praised as the best and safest. A German national treasure!” She never went to her second appointment, which was scheduled for June. 

“Especially when people tell you it gets worse with the second jab!” 

Until now, she managed to slip through the net. She’s even taken the train to Paris and Brussels, and flown to Portugal several times. And now? “To be honest I don’t know. Some people told me there’s a black market for fake passes. A friend got his for €150, but I’m a little scared.”

Do you believe in vaccinations? Yes, I’m vaccinated

Do you believe the virus exists? Yes

How do you protect yourself? Tests and masks

How will you deal with the new 3G restrictions? Testing every time I need to go somewhere.