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Dossier vaccine opponents/deniers part 1 – update

Immune to vaccination? A milieu study.

© imago images / Ralph Peters

Dossier update of January 19, 2021

In October 2020 we used our analytical tool PAS 2.0 to reveal the three major areas of interest for vaccine opponents (see dossier text below).   

Now, roughly four months later, we looked at the interests of this group once again and have been able to identify two alarming elements:

  1. Outgoing US President Donald Trump is now part of the DNA of vaccine opponents in the so-called “Alternative For Germany Cluster”.
  2. The “Interference Cluster under Russian Influence” has clearly gained in relevance overall – e.g., a 25% rise in “chemtrails” or growth of 36% for “Resistance 2020” (“Your Grassroots Party”). The list of findings has also identified new and more radical entities such as “klagemauer.TV”.

All in all it is an alarming development that alternative-fact media continue to gain discourse dominance. This also makes it much more difficult to reach vaccine skeptics.

PAS 2.0: Updated cluster: Vaccine Opponents

Part one our dossier on vaccine opponents was published on October 12, 2020.

In Germany, increasingly fewer people view COVID-19 as a serious illness. The willingness to be vaccinated – assuming that we will soon have a suitable SARS-CoV-2 vaccine – is in decline: A clear indicator! In its place, the voices of vaccine opponents and conspiracy ideologists are becoming louder and louder. But who are these people who are “immune to vaccination”? And how can we reach them? We’ve gone and taken a closer look and have used our social media analysis tool to gather some more in-depth data. What’s come out of this is a very interesting milieu study.

In the second part of our dossier, guest author Florian Martius, Chief Editor of the news platform Pharma Fakten (German only), provides a – thoroughly constructive – view of a Germany weary of vaccination.

For over half a year now, we have been living with the knowledge of a potentially life-threatening pandemic. At first it was the media that was primarily dominated by COVID-19, but at the latest with the first lockdown, the virus made a tangible entrance into our daily lives as well. Then came summer, and with it maybe something that resembled normality. Finally there were other things in the news and people started returning to their workplaces, schools and childcare – social life started happening again: with restrictions, with social distancing, with face masks – but all the same.

COVID-19? Is that still around?

You could almost think that the COVID crisis could be overcome relatively easily given some healthy common sense, strict adherence to the hygiene rules and a positive attitude. At least until a vaccine hits the market. It’s common knowledge that global research in this direction is in high gear. But – and this is the bad news – vaccine opponents and spreaders of conspiracy theories are becoming increasingly louder. This has far-reaching consequences, because it promotes vaccine skepticism and causes doubts among people who would otherwise tend to feel positively about vaccination. In fact, in a currently representative study by the polling institute Kantar (as of June 2020), one out of every ten people in Germany said that they would not want to be vaccinated against COVID-19.[1] COVID-19 Snapshot Monitoring (COSMO) arrived at an even more drastic finding in September of this year. This finding revealed a constant decline in survey participants’ vaccine readiness (given the availability of a vaccine), from 79% in April to 56% in September.[2]

This fits with the assumption that the coronavirus has apparently lost its fear factor. Whereas 59% of those surveyed in March of this year took the threat of the virus “very seriously,” this number had dropped to only 39% by May. This is one of the findings of a representative survey by the SINUS institute.[3]

Say no to vaccination? There are supposedly a lot of reasons.

Suddenly entirely new voices are getting loud – even very uncomfortably loud. At so-called hygiene protests, B-list celebrities whip out the digital conspiracy club, and once again it’s time for Bill Gates to serve as the punching bag for vaccine opponents. Allegedly, a real user is behind every social media “like”. A person with their own experiences, emotions, needs and opinions – but maybe not a full deck of cards?

Why? Because those who refuse to have themselves or their children vaccinated not only put themselves at risk of catching a potentially serious disease, but are also showing – in the real meaning of the word – pretty antisocial behavior. The principle of herd immunity or collective protection cannot be maintained in the absence of vaccination readiness. People who are forced to forgo vaccination – for example cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy – would then no longer profit from the benefits vaccination offers society as a whole.

The supposed reasons for refusing vaccination are many. These range from a lack of awareness about the seriousness of vaccine-preventable illnesses to false knowledge to organizational hurdles and freeloading.

For all the lack of understanding: Even vaccine opponents think they’re right – and fall back on diverse “arguments” for their behavior. These, however, often reveal themselves as vaccination myths that – the lack of any scientific evidence notwithstanding – have been around for decades and are fielded time and again in debates. For example, the untenable claim of a correlation between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism. Or the supposed greed of the pharmaceutical lobby that knowingly uses poisons and influences health policy from the shadows. Listing all of the reasoning or mistaken beliefs of vaccine opponents here is beyond the scope of this article.

Where vaccine opponents hang out

What we’re interested in: Who exactly are these vaccine opponents? What characterizes them? And how can we reach them? With the help of our social media analysis tool PAS 2.0, we discovered: Vaccine opponents are represented across all social groups. However, there is one distinctive trait: 31% of vaccine opponents belong to the group of liberal intellectuals. In comparison, the figures for the traditional blue collar, the social climber and the modern employee milieus are below or just above 5% These groups seem to be immune to the topic of vaccine opposition.[4]

PAS 2.0: Distribution of vaccine opponents by milieu

The liberal intellectual paradox

One possible reason for the high representation of vaccine opponents in this social group may lie in the fact that the people belonging to this group generally have a critical eye and enjoy questioning things. This is reinforced by the group’s (at least stated) desire for social justice and sense of responsibility combined with a feeling of superiority. This almost sounds like “preaching water and drinking wine”. For many, the desire to have a maximum sense of their own safety outweighs the readiness to take even a “supposed” risk for the sake of society. Phrased cynically: “The other guys can take care of herd immunity...” – in any case, the attitude shows no sense of social responsibility.

The liberal intellectuals: responsible, social, eco

Similar to SINUS’ milieus, SIGMA Milieus® are a tool for defining consumer groups. SIGMA Milieus® reflect the psychological predispositions of consumers and combine them with the use or rejection of brands and products. The liberal-intellectual milieu includes the liberal educated middle class and modern functional elites with a post-materialist orientation. Self-fulfillment and identity in career and leisure are high priorities for this group. Members reject superficial values and cherish what is noble, true, and exceptional. Also of importance are responsible dealings with oneself and the world, social justice and ecological and political correctness.

Vegan AfD members with an interest in Russian news

PAS 2.0 revealed where the largest number of vaccine opponents are found. PAS also makes it possible to characterize vaccine opposition groups more precisely – and simply by mapping their interests. Here three major regions can be identified: an interference cluster under Russian influence (colored orange in the illustration), an Alternative For Germany (AfD) cluster (yellow) and a social-eco-esoteric cluster (pink). You can see how vaccine opponents on Facebook aren’t only active on relevant anti-vaccination pages, but also increasingly on those related to animal rights, veganism or yoga. A certain closeness to the AfD is also evident, German and Russian news play an important role and one of the ten favorite Facebook pages for vaccine opponents is a page on chemtrails. These clusters reflect the heterogeneous diversity of vaccine opponents, which can also be observed at the hygiene protests.[4]

PAS 2.0: Vaccine opponent clusters

So how is this knowledge helpful to us?

Regardless of where you stand, vaccination is and remains a sensitive issue. It’s necessary to argue even more precisely and credibly – and not generally, but ideally with precisely those arguments that the corresponding milieu – or even much smaller groups – are most receptive to. PAS makes a richer mode of observation possible, and with it the more targeted tailoring of suitable messages. Because even if its tempting to swing the big club here as well, you’re not going to land any hits. Sustainable dialogue is only possible when targeted at the right people – and they are found at the “edges” of our anti-vaccine groups. PAS 2.0 is the ideal tool for identifying these individuals along with the topics that interest them and possible ways of reaching them as an entry point for constructive dialogue.


The topic of vaccination is important for all of us. This makes it all the more important to actually reach everyone – at least everyone who is open for dialogue. We here at komm.passion can make a contribution. We know the field of vaccine-preventable illnesses and its communicative challenges very well. We’re passionate about complex problems and obviously also about solving them with clever communication – creatively implemented and precisely tailored. With PAS 2.0, our deep and comprehensive social media analysis tool, we help companies better differentiate their target groups to precisely sound out their communication focus and identify touchpoints for the target groups. With the help of microtargeting, we are able to investigate target groups by milieu, cluster and genome in order to safely determine whether they should be included in or excluded from a given approach.

The Pragmatic Analytic Services (PAS) initiative was jointly developed by management consultancy and creative agency komm.passion and Data.Science.Consulting. With PAS, komm.passion CEO Prof. Dr. Alexander Güttler and Dr. Klaus Holthausen, CTO of Data.Science.Consulting, are striving for a more efficient, leaner and more exact new kind of business analysis. With this goal in mind, the initiative combines and improves on a diverse range of tools – including many innovative new ones.

Where can we start?

Dossier vaccine opponents/deniers part 2

Guest author Florian Martius, former TV journalist and Chief Editor of N24 (now known as: Welt) and today Chief Editor of the news platform Pharma Fakten (German only) takes a closer look. He has been doing vaccination communication for over 15 years now – for clients including various vaccine developers and manufacturers. We asked him to take a helicopter view of vaccine-weary Germany and to share his views about possible reasons for the phenomenon and some initial possible solutions with us. Go here for the second part of the dossier.

[1]  https://www.rnd.de/gesundheit/corona-impfung-bereitschaft-in-deutschland-so-gering-wie-fast-nirgends-P7RV7E3ZQ4YNAJUHVM4G35B6HM.html (last accessed october 2020; German only).

[2]  https://projekte.uni-erfurt.de/cosmo2020/cosmo-analysis.html#13_impfungen (COSMO — COVID-19 Snapshot Monitoring; German only).

[3]  SINUS-Institut: Standardized online survey, representative of the German population aged 18 and over; survey period: 03/27/2020 – 03/30/2020 and 05/14/2020 – 05/22/2020

[4]  PAS analysis from september 2020, conducted by Dr. Klaus Holthausen, chief developer at PAS 2.0.

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