In January, German Minister for Health Karl Lauterbach announced that he would be setting up a €100 million programme for research into long Covid and post-vaccination injuries, as well as support for those afflicted. Initial hope, however, has given way to disappointment — and anger — after Lauterbach revealed on Wednesday that the programme has been significantly scaled back to around €40 million euros under the German government’s new austerity drive. Of these, only €200,000 has been earmarked for advisory assistance.
Lauterbach has been referred to as “Germany’s Fauci”, having adopted an aggressively pro-lockdown and pro-vaccination mandate stance during the pandemic. Yet back in March, the politician caused shockwaves when he admitted in a TV interview that he had downplayed the risks of the Covid vaccines, which he had previously described as “without side effects”.
He acknowledged that vaccine-induced injuries are a serious issue, and that his ministry was planning to launch a programme to investigate the negative consequences of Covid vaccination. Of particular interest was what in the German context is known as post-vac syndrome — post-vaccination symptoms similar to long Covid, or what some call “long vax”.
It was the first time a major Western politician acknowledged what had until then been a taboo subject, especially at the height of the mass vaccination drive: the possible existence of vaccine side effects and long Covid–like symptoms after vaccination. Since then, researchers and journalists have slowly started to catch up. For instance, a recent article in the journal Science noted that “a rare link between coronavirus vaccines and Long Covid-like illness [is starting] to gain acceptance”.
Over the past two years, 340,000 cases of suspected vaccine side effects — and more than 50,000 suspected serious cases — have reportedly accumulated in the German health ministry’s system. By March, the health authorities had received more than 6,500 applications for recognition of damage caused by a Covid-19 vaccination. Germany is also responsible for over 50% of all post-vac cases reported worldwide, 1,452 out of a total of 2,657. It’s a tiny number, but that’s also because it’s a phenomenon about which we know very little.
Considering that 65 million people worldwide, more than a million in Germany alone, are alleged to suffer from long Covid (about which we also know very little: a recent study found that half of Long Covid sufferers have never actually had Covid) the actual number of post-vac sufferers is likely to be significantly higher. But until more research is done, it will be hard to know.
Sufferers and advocacy groups are outraged by Lauterbach’s recent about-turn. “I’m no longer disappointed: I’m appalled. People are helpless”, said Ricarda Piepenhagen, the founder of Nicht genesen (“Not recovered”), a support initiative for those suffering from long Covid and post-vac syndrome. Dozens of messages popped up on Piepenhagen’s mobile phone during the Health Minister’s press conference. The community of those affected is deeply disappointed, and feels betrayed by the politicians.