Teaches a paradox in life

Prevention paradoxIf the success the Covid-19 prevention dangerous becomes

When it comes to health protection, the fact that prevention works can lead to fewer people taking part - and thus protection to a decline. Crucial here: the group dynamics, explains a sociologist.

Virologist Christian Drosten has said that the prevention paradox is not giving him any peace at the moment. By this he means that the success of the previous measures against the Covid-19 pandemic means that the currently less strict restrictions are being called into question.

"The paradox is that you feel safe because preventive measures work and it seems as if you have the disease under control. Motivation drops."
Helene Nikita Schreiner, Deutschlandfunk Nova reporter

The virologist also measures success by the number of reproductions. This is at least temporarily below one. This means that, according to current statistical estimates, an infected person infects less than one other person on average.

Constant weighing and solidarity

The consequence of this development: The health system is largely stable, the hospitals are not overloaded. Deutschlandfunk-Nova reporter Helene Nikita Schreiner took a closer look at the balancing act between individual limitation and collective benefit. Hand washing and face masks to school closings and a ban on contact are just very different demands on individual people. She says: "So it is a constant balancing act. And of course also a question of solidarity."

One thing is clear: "Flatten the curve" also means that a minority belonging to a risk group is also protected by a majority and it is ensured that all sick people within the health system can be professionally cared for.

To protect a minority

This is exactly where the prevention paradox comes into play. It explains why preventive action that affects the general population can prevent more diseases and deaths than if only the high-risk group were to do so. So why is the risk group better protected when everyone can participate and not only the risk group has to adhere to strict measures. This applies in times of Covid-19, but also when vaccinating or using condoms during sex. These measures are not necessarily important for the individual, but protect others in case of doubt, says Helene.

The paradox now is that the first steps to contain Covid-19 have worked and we feel safe. So it seems like our society has the disease outbreak under control. The result: Those who are not directly affected feel safe. And with it, the motivation to adhere to rules that limit one's own life decreases.

"People have to feel vulnerable, the disease has to be considered serious, the rules have to be believed, the social environment has to stick to the rules."

What can be done about it? Holger Pfaff teaches media sociology at the University of Cologne. With the Health-Action-Progress-Approach, he explains the prerequisites for people to adhere to health protection rules. A central point for him is the group pressure: As soon as compliance with the protective rules is considered uncool in the social environment, that is a massive incentive to no longer comply with the rules themselves. Your own vulnerability, the seriousness of the health risk and the belief in the effectiveness of the rules, all of this could easily put peer pressure phenomena into the background.