More than almost any other event, the pandemic shows that political action should be based on verifiable facts and evidence. Whenever wishful thinking reigned in recent months and those responsible (including physicians' representatives) became careless, the laws of epidemiology brought them rudely back down to earth. But the Corona crisis also reveals that evidence cannot be the sole measure of action.
If, for example, the Standing Commission on Vaccination (Stiko) again wants to wait until all the evidence on even the rarest and most unlikely side effect of the currently available corona vaccine for children is known or ruled out before making a recommendation, then it has not understood its extremely important task in this pandemic.
This is indicated not only by the fact that the head of the Stiko, Thomas Mertens, has already announced his personal rejection of the vaccination of children under the age of twelve, thus anticipating the still missing vote of his commission - and thus massively damaging its reputation. The Stiko had also taken far too much time to recommend booster vaccines and vaccination for twelve- to 17-year-olds, not to mention the back-and-forth with the AstraZeneca vaccination.
Of course, it is right to be thorough and not to take any risks, especially not when vaccinating children. And yes, the Stiko, with three full-time positions at the Robert Koch Institute, has not been nearly adequately staffed by the Federal Ministry of Health to fulfill its suddenly so acutely important task in a pandemic. And yet one does not always have the choice of waiting until all the evidence is available and every doubt has been dispelled.
After all, what would be the point of an expert commission? When all the studies have been done, all the data are available, then a computer can calculate the result and spit it out. On the other hand, expertise, the wealth of experience of experts, is needed, literally, when there is a need: when there is too little information to guarantee the high and correct standards of safety, and yet a quick decision has to be made.
"Speed trumps perfection." That's what Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization's (WHO) public health emergencies program, said in warning at the outset of this pandemic - and "be quick, don't worry" was his motto. Because the virus is not waiting.
Every hour that those responsible fail to act, people become infected, some fall ill, and even die. And, according to all that is known, far more than would ever fall ill, let alone die, as a result of a vaccination. What is needed in such a situation of uncertainty is not a pusillanimous retreat to the safe ground of evidence. What is needed is the courage of the experienced, of the experts, of those in power to make a decision, coupled with the open discussion of any residual risks and an easily understandable explanation of why one is prepared to take them. People can understand that, and they will follow - at least the sensible ones.
Image by Mufid Majnun