Corona vaccines are considered safe, billions of vaccine doses have been administered worldwide since the end of 2020. But opponents of vaccination continue to stir the mood on social networks. One method: Linking the deaths of prominent, mostly young people to vaccination side effects – without any evidence.
For example in the case of Jeremy Ruehlemann: The US model died in January at the age of only 27. Comments from radical opponents of vaccination are mixed in with the grief on the Internet. On Twitter they use the hashtag “
The fact that the media have long since reported on Ruehlemann's actual cause of death plays no role in the scene. The father of the dead man spoke to the English tabloid “Daily Mail” about drug addiction and a fatal overdose.
As a rule, opponents of vaccination do not present any more evidence than a suspected connection between vaccination and death. In the case of Ruehlemann, a photo showing him being vaccinated against a corona virus in New York circulated as alleged evidence. Ruehlemann originally published it on his Instagram account in 2021. After his death, comments such as "Natural selection" or "He signed his own death warrant" now accumulate under this old post.
Such inhuman sentences about Ruehlemann are part of reactions to other deaths. Opponents of vaccination collected under "
The Hamburg journalism professor Katharina Kleinen-von Königslöw researches social networks and the behavior of users. “The Vaccination hashtag follows a very typical pattern of conspiracy theories. Their appeal lies in playfully finding clues to a larger pattern behind it,” she says. And in fact, every user can use the hashtag to contribute to the collection of supposed vaccination deaths.
There are various groups participating in this vaccine damage narrative. In addition to staunch opponents of vaccination and people who, for example, have an entrepreneurial interest in spreading conspiracy theories, there are people "who were perhaps simply fans or found the deceased person interesting," says Kleinen-von Königslöw. This group is at risk of being drawn into the conspiracy theory. Because there are widespread uncertainties and "many good reasons why you could find the vaccination scary: the rapid development of vaccines and the new mRNA technology, for example".
The concrete effect of the hashtag “suddenlyandunexpectedly” is that it leads to a selective perception: “Once you have been made aware of this supposed trend, it is much more noticeable,” says Kleinen-von Königslöw. Many individual cases give the impression that deaths are increasing – and the reason can only be that the corona vaccination is harmful.
In fact, serious side effects of the corona vaccines are very rare. In Germany, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) keeps statistics on the safety of vaccinations. For example, reports of suspected cases of side effects are evaluated. This is how it became known, for example, that in very rare cases inflammation of the heart muscle occurred after the vaccination. Vaccination recommendations were then adjusted.
At the beginning of 2022, the PEI reported 85 deaths in which a "causal connection with the corona vaccination was classified as possible or probable". At that time, almost 150 million doses of vaccine had been administered. The approval of vaccines is a matter of balancing: do the protections they offer outweigh the risks? The Standing Vaccination Committee sees this as a given in the case of Corona: Vaccination is still recommended.
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