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  • Hansen, Moulin-Fournier & Paulsen

To jab or not to jab

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

...can be really difficult to talk about for authorities, you and me. Below are three observations of the lay of the land in Germany, France, and Sweden from winter of 2021/22. Health, anger, shame, in-group biases, segregation and political elections makes vaccinations a toxic conversation environment.


What helps me see what you see?

Jennifer Hansen, Germany

The tone between the vaccinated (almost 70%) and the unvaccinated (a good 30%) in Germany is getting rougher. In politics, on talk shows, in social networks, and in private. The choice of words and comparisons are becoming more extreme: comparisons are being made with the Third Reich and the unvaccinated are being called "covidiots". Prof. Frank Ulrich Montgomery, Chairman of the World Medical Association, spoke in a talk show of a "tyranny of the unvaccinated". Politicians had long ruled out any kind of compulsory vaccination. Now, a general corona vaccination obligation is to be discussed and decided in the newly elected Bundestag. The Ethics Council is to prepare a recommendation by the end of the year. After the newly appointed chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke out in favor of a general vaccination obligation, it seems likely that it will come. According to a Forsa survey, 73% of Germans are in favor of compulsory vaccination. Restrictions for the unvaccinated are increasing: in view of the Corona situation in Germany, the federal and state governments agreed on stricter measures on 2 December 2021. The new regulations are to affect unvaccinated people in particular. There is much debate whether the stricter regulations and a general corona vaccination obligation will divide society even further or not. COVID-19 is certainly testing the ties that bind society together, testing capacities for collaboration and compassion. And I think many of us feel overwhelmed from time to time confronted with the complexity and the challenging questions regarding individual and collective freedom for example. At least I do. I also feel that stopping to listen to each other, to engage with each other will not solve the situation we are in. What could help are some of the advice Julia Dhar has given in a TED Talk in 2018. She gives a very practical advice:

Next time someone says something you instinctively disagree with, something that makes you angry, ask that person:

What could you share that helps me see what you see?

A dangerous question to answer

Cyril Moulin-Fournier, France

Month after month, discussions between people have become increasingly ambiguous, a bit like a millefeuille, the French pastry made of layers. It makes understanding opinions more and more complex.

Over the past period, I have observed growing stigmatization between those who “abide by” the rules and those who question things and protest.

In a world where everyone can express their voice, we are witnessing a hyper simplification of how people think. Based on my observation, I call this over-simplified identities.

There is on the one hand the clan of the “compliance” versus “noncompliance” identities, as simplified layers of actually complex ones. It would for instance be incorrect to consider everyone from the anti-vaccine tribe coming from a specific political side.

The other day during a conversation with a friend of mine, I realized getting the full vaccine did not prevent him from questioning the added value of a possible third injection. Is he an anti-vaxxer?

I believe a simplification of identities is dangerous. Most of us feel, even if we have a strong opinion (about the pandemic or the elections), that we prefer to talk about it only when surrounded by people from our tribe/bubble.

Imagine a dinner with this single question:

- Are you vaccinated?

The answer places the other in a box where he or she might never come out. The world of nuances is over when a single feature determines how we are perceived as people and whether we may talk to each other. At least about the important topic of vaccination.

A few months ago, the daily news “La Croix” published a special edition, “the call from the hundreds, 100 personalities signing a manifesto aimed at speaking with each other without conflicting. However, let's be honest, it’s a continuous effort because all of us risk succumbing to our biases and resentments against the other. We are emotional animals.

The real question is how to open and maintain spaces for active listening, for dialogue in a pivotal period to define a common social project for France integrating the opinions of all citizens.


Vaxxing is still a sleeping divider


Mats Paulsen, Sweden

Only 60 percent of Sweden’s foreign-born are fully vaccinated compared to 80 percent of the total population. The question of why that is hides just under the surface in the public debate. I see it as a new potential theme in one of the dominating Swedish political discourses: “immigration-related disasters”.

I worry that lower vaccination rates becomes an extra immigration challenge besides gang violence, contribution fraud, honor culture, and high unemployment. Those who view immigration as the big problem will have one more reason.

People with the opposite view seem to lay low on the subject. They rather not talk about it. Maybe because they are afraid it will be an additional negative proof in the systematic discrediting of the liberal immigration policy that Sweden has had for decades.

Today the question of more or less immigration is not debated anymore. In recent weeks the discussion has turned towards ideas of sending back immigrants to where they came from.

But first, why are vaccination rates so much lower among foreign-born? As far as I can see, health authorities have not yet found the answer. Some speculate it is caused by language barriers and lack of education. Others that there is a general mistrust of authorities.

It might be a mix of both. My own observation is that exclusion is deeper and socio-economic gaps are wider in Sweden than we admit. The bubbles between segregated groups are closed and that makes a breeding ground for mistrust. 26 percent of the citizens have a foreign background, which adds to the complexity.

If the pandemic will escalate, I will not be surprised if low vaccination rates will be used as proof of the failed immigration policy. And it can become one of the arguments for the new political promise of “return migration”. To keep discussions about it factual and sensible will be difficult.


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