Discover more from eugyppius: a plague chronicle
In which German state media debunks eugyppius.
Why Are Case Rates Lower in the East? ask mentally vacant problem glasses science reporter Anna Behrend and official state media man-bun sporting “fact-finder” Pascal Siggelkow.
The nationwide seven-day incidence in Germany has been on the rise again for several weeks now. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has already spoken of a summer Corona wave. But a look at the developments reveals that there are huge differences between the federal states:
While the incidences in Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein have already passed the threshold of 900, the numbers in Thuringia and Saxony are still under 400. In general, it’s remarkable that all the East German states – with the exception of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – are significantly below the national average incidence of of 687.7. And this is despite the fact that Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia have some of the poorest vaccination rates. In conspiracy-theory circles, people are already fantasising about “negative efficacy”, especially with regard to booster vaccinations, saying that the figures amount to proof that the vaccines are ineffective. But is there really a causal connection between the vaccination rate and the incidence?
Before they get into that, Siggelkow and Behrend light the incense and cycle through the familiar vaccinator nostrums. “Vaccination protects against severe outcomes and death,” even though the rise of Omicron has led to a great many “breakthrough infections.” Mysterious “studies,” which are never further characterised, are said to show “that vaccinated people … are slightly less contagious,” although they have to concede that “there isn’t enough data to conclude this decisively.”
Then, when they’re reasonably sure most people have stopped reading, comes an uncomfortable admission. Case incidences, the cornerstone of Tagesschau Corona reporting since 2020, are of, uh, “limited significance”:
If the vaccination rate … is not the decisive factor … how is it that the number of new infections in the East is comparatively low right now? First of all, it must be said that the current infection figures are only of limited significance. “One must always also consider that incidences are calculated on the basis of reported laboratory results,” says [virologist Johannes] Knobloch. As before, only positive PCR tests count in the RKI statistics. Willingness to be tested and the accessibility of PCR tests therefore have a very large influence on the measured incidence. … “The number of unreported cases is probably higher than in all previous phases of the pandemic.”
According to experts, the incidence continues to indicate whether the wave of infection is rising or falling. Caution is advised, however, when making regional comparisons, as the testing strategies and also the number of tests differ greatly across states states. Fewer tests mean that fewer infections are detected. A high proportion of positive tests … indicates a high number of unreported cases …
Ah, so they just have super high positivity rates in the East then? That’s the explanation?
But it’s not the case that Eastern states have uniquely high positive rates compared to the others. So different testing patterns alone cannot explain the current low incidence there either.
It wasn’t that long ago that all manner of respectable journalists, especially those working for Pravda operations like Tagesschau, wrote long think pieces on the “global menace” of “vaccine scepticism,” complete with histrionics about the lower vaccination rates in Eastern Europe causing “much higher infection figures.” Lazy Googling yields many typical items, such as this piece from MDR in November, lamenting that the “incidence among unvaccinated in Sachsen-Anhalt is significantly higher than among the vaccinated.” This at a time when the vaccinated were exempt from most testing, while many unvaccinated had to submit to daily antigen tests before they could even go to work.
Now that these games no longer favour the vaccinated, though, we’re allowed to wonder about things like positivity rates. These certainly matter, but – unbeknownst to our crack fact-checking team – they’ve become totally meaningless in the era of lateral flow testing, as a plurality of PCR tests in Germany are conducted to confirm a positive antigen result, and nobody has any idea what the true rate of testing might be.
Frustrated on this front, Siggelkow and Behrend look for other signs that infections might really be higher in the East, even though the official incidence is lower there. More and more, you have the feeling of a desperate grasping after straws:
If the true incidence were in fact higher, you would expect to see this in ICU admissions …
Yet the proportion of Covid patients in ICU is currently not conspicuously high in the East compared to the rest of Germany.
So were most people in the low-incidence states already infected and now immune? Those who become infected with the coronavirus usually form antibodies against it. How long and how well these antibodies protect against a new infection with the virus has not yet been conclusively researched.
However, if we assume that there is at least some protection for a while, one conceivable reason for the low incidence in some states would be that more people have already come into contact with the virus there and are therefore less likely to be infected now.
… It’s not known precisely how much of the population in which states has already recovered from infection. If you take the number of new infections … since the beginning of the year as a rough approximation of the circulation of Omicron, you find no confirmation of the assumption that the population of the East has had greater contact with the virus. …
How confusing. Do Tagesschau no longer stand by their dire proclamations, uttered just this past winter, that lower vaccination rates were to be blamed for higher infections in the East? Is their position now that the East never saw higher rates of infection at all, even though the vaccines definitely protect against infection? Also too, why have we abandoned so soon our thesis that the incidence is of “limited significance,” can only tell us when cases are going up or down, and says nothing about how many cases there actually are? I thought regional comparisons of case numbers were bad?
Way down at the bottom, when Behrend and Siggelkow are triply sure nobody is reading anymore, they toss out the possibility that cases might indeed be lower in the East – not because of the vaccines, but because the new Omicron variants haven’t gotten there yet:
One reason the nationwide incidences are rising so sharply in the first place is the Omicron subtypes BA.4 and BA.5, which experts consider more contagious than the previously known “sister variants.” BA.5 is now dominant … It’s of course possible that some states are more affected by the new variants than others, where these variants have not yet arrived.
If BA.5 infects the vaccinated preferentially, and vaccination rates vary substantially across regions, there will be many places where BA.5 never quite seems to have arrived. Perhaps aware of this close brush with crimethink, our braintrust wraps things up with some cleansing mantras:
What is certain, though, is that there is no scientifically sound reason to assume that a high vaccination rate could be partly responsible for a high incidence. On the contrary: Scientific data show instead that people infected with Omicron are less likely to infect others than the unvaccinated.
Every conspiracy theory must first be ignored, then denied, and finally debunked, before it becomes true.
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