"People should be enabled to make informed decisions," says Katharina Tartler, founder of the university group "VACCtion". The team provides scientifically proven information to those who are skeptical or uncertain about vaccinations. The online lectures are particularly in demand at schools.
"VACCtion" started in 2019 as a one-woman show. How did that come about?
Katharina Tartler: I have three brothers, and they kept sending me YouTube videos of vaccination opponents and making fun of them. Then, conspiracy theories started popping up in my personal environment as well - which made me sad, because vaccinations belong to the most important scientific achievements. In 2019, the WHO stated that vaccination opponents are to be seen among the top ten threats to global health.
And you weren’t going to accept that?
Right! Vaccination brings with it a paradox. As vaccination rates increase, disease incidence decreases - but the rarer a disease gets, the less the people are aware about it. There is less fear, and vaccination rates plummet. The United States, for example, had already been declared measles-free. In the 2019 measles outbreak in the U.S., more than 700 cases were reported in just the first four months of the year. Globally, the number rose to over 870,000 reported cases in 2019, with more than 200,000 deaths.
You gave the very first talk at your parish’s senior citizens club in August 2019, when you were still on your own. By now, you have grown into a group of eight people...
I wasn’t completely alone back then. My boyfriend is a PhD candidate of Chemistry, and he provided support, proofread, and edited videos for me. After the lectures, I was able to advertise my project -and I’m super happy that there are so many of us now.
What is the composition of the group?
We come from different disciplines within the natural sciences, which helps a lot. There are doctoral students and student teachers. We prepared all the other lectures together, almost everyone has already held a presentation, and we are almost always complete when we hold lectures. Prof. Dietmar Zehn, Professor of Animal Physiology and Immunology at the TUM School of Life Sciences has also taken a lot of time for us.
How do you structure your lectures?
It differs from audience to audience - but we start off by describing, in general terms, how the human immune system and how active and passive vaccines work, that they exploit the body’s own mechanisms and "forewarn" the immune system, so to speak. We distinguish active vaccines in live, dead, and gene-based vaccines, such as the Corona vaccines.
What concerns about vaccinations do you come across?
That there are many harmful additives, that there are severe side effects, and even the view that "vaccinations are just a way for the pharmaceutical industry to make money". We then try to refute these opinions or put them into perspective, for example by showing charts of the top-selling drugs. In fact, there is only one vaccine among the top ten.
The vaccine against pneumococcus...and it is at the bottom of the list. With the gene-based Corona vaccines, the biggest fear is that they will somehow alter our genetic makeup. The mRNA vaccines don’t come into contact with our own genome at all, and they also degrade very quickly. The AstraZeneca vaccine also degrades quite quickly, and it is not inserted into our genome either.
How do the public lectures differ from the school lectures?
In the school lectures, we explain the immune system and the different pathogens in more detail, and we are more interactive. We use the mentimeter-app to get real-time feedback from the students, which is visible to everyone in a word map. During the lecture, it is possible to ask questions in the chat. Our team collects them, and we try to answer them in the best possible way after the lecture.
You are still looking for reinforcements, aren’t you?
Yes, always. For example, we are urgently looking for someone from the field of Computer Science who could build a website so that we have more than just our Instagram channel.
(Interview: Barbara Link)