Case study: The Lübeck vaccine

Winfried Stöcker is a German doctor. After a career developing immunization technologies, he sells Euroinmun to to Perkin Elmer, a US megacorp, for $1.3B; his own majority stake would be worth $600M, so after taxes a German magazine estimated his net worth at circa $300M. After selling the company, he makes a variety of investments, like buying a nearby airport, and continues working on his own, smaller lab, Labor Stöcker. He also donates to the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a German far right party, and positions himself as being against more immigration.

Come COVID, the guy realizes that he has the relevant expertise, and in March 2020 develops a vaccine in his personal lab. He tests this vaccine on himself, and later on family and employees.

After some experiments, he becomes sure of the vaccine’s efficacy and harmlessness, as it uses the same mechanisms as e.g., Hepatitis vaccines. He decides that, in times of urgency, double blind trials would take too long, and organizes a vaccine drive on his airport. But the Paul Ehrlich Institute and the Landesamt für soziale Dienste sue him, and police interrupt the vaccine drive.

After my resounding success with the first five immunizations (within my own family), I applied for approval for a corresponding study in September 2020 (Wednesday, 2 September 2020, 18:52) with the head of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, Klaus Cichutek. I tried to make it clear to him that within six months I could have immunized all of Germany safely and efficiently against Covid-19. And yet, instead of eliciting enthusiasm from this important senior civil servant, I aroused his displeasure, apparently because he felt overlooked. Or perhaps there were other interests involved. And so, he had me prosecuted (the proceedings were closed)…

I’m not quite clear on the finer legal points, but although the vaccination drive at his airport seems to have been somehow illegal, Stöcker finds another legal interpretation such that individual doctors can order two vaccine components, an “antigen” and an “adjuvant” and join them together. Separate, they aren’t a vaccine, and so its distribution isn’t prohibited, per Stöcker’s interpretation of the Arzneimittelgesetz.

The story then continues, with Stöcker becoming convinced that his vaccine is superior to more recent mRNA vaccines, and winning some and losing other legal cases. Recently, he boasted of reaching 100,000 vaccinations. But he also received a €250K fine for the vaccination drive in his airport. Cichutek, the bureaucrat, received a Federal Order of Merit, but is no longer the chief of the Paul Ehrlich Institute.

Overall, sources defending Stöcker’s point of view are more numerous and accessible than sources presenting the opposite perspective. Still, here is a blog post outlining the lack of information about quality assurance processes, and other problems with the potential vaccine.

Ultimately, it could be the case that the Lübeck vaccine was inferior, and that legal censure was indeed justified. However, my impression is that, on the balance of probabilities, that’s not the case. Particularly on the early days of the pandemic, scaling a cheap method seems like it would have been much better than subjecting the population to the also uncertain effects of more infections. And as time goes on, having had different vaccines also seems like it would have been more robust. Still, there are many technical details that I don’t understand.

With this in mind, what are some possible lessons? One clear one seems that Stöcker’s support of the AfD generated general antipathy, and reduced his freedom for action. It could have been the deciding factor in having hostile interactions with the opaque bureaucracy that was in charge of regulating vaccines. And on that topic, it probably seems like a better move to flatter and appease the bureaucrats in charge of permissions than to antagonize them.

But at the same time, Germany’s didn’t have the state capacity to deal with the pandemic with nuance and sophistication, and Stöcker ended up bypassing bureaucrats rather than working through the slow official process. That official process involved many months of multiple rounds of human trials and double blind experiments. But at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, there was also value to acting sooner. The argument which rolls off my tongue is that in a falling plane, one shouldn’t require a randomized trial before putting on a parachute. Similarly, society decided to take refuge on slow, journal-style scientific trials. Stöcker’s approach of reasoning from general principles, and concluding that his vaccine had extremely low risk because its components were the same as those of vaccines already in circulation, seems superior. But society couldn’t integrate that knowledge, and so suddenly went from prohibiting any vaccine to mandating a few, rather than allowing individuals to decide, and allowing a more robust distribution of risk.

Stöcker himself seems like a unique individual. He had technical expertise, but also courage, and funds to act on his conviction, as well as a private lab. On the other hand, he no longer controlled Euroinmun, and it seems possible that with him at the helm of the behemoth, he could have achieved better results. At 77, Stöcker is also old. In a possible H5N1 pandemic over the coming decades, he might not have the stamina to lead a similar effort, or even be alive. One good move here on his part might be to ensure that his successor will be similarly courageous.

To me, the story shapes my intuition about how to respond in crisis, by showing how states are important yet fallible, and they can be bypassed.

Sources and further reading

Wikipedia, 2024 [German], Winfried Stöcker,

Labor Stöcker, 2024 [German],

Winfried Stöcker Blog, 2024 [German],

Winfried Stöcker Blog, 2024 [English],

Winfried Stöcker, 2024, Die lübecker gen-freie Impfung gegen covid-19 ist rechtlich nicht zu beanstanden! Aktueller stand und Zusammenfassung,

Winfried Stöcker, 2022, „Lubecavax“: The Individual Anti-Corona Vaccine From Lübeck, Version 2022-05-09,

Winfried Stöcker, 2022, The Family Doctor, Who Legally Vaccinates Against Corona Virus: Ordering Information,

Winfried Stöcker, 2021, Lübeck-Impfung gegen Corona, Zusammenfassung,

Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), 2024, Euroimmun-Gründer Stöcker: 250.000 Euro Strafe für illegale Impfung,,stoecker146.html

Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), 2024, Illegale Corona-Impfungen: Viertel Million Euro Geldstrafe für Professor Stöcker aus Oberlausitz,

Petra Falb, 2021, Der „selbstgebastelte Lübecker Impfstoff zur Pulverisierung der Pandemie“ – ein Netzfund,

Deutche Welle (DW), 2021, German coronavirus vaccine inventor investigated,

DW, 2021, Germany: Dozens opt for illegal mystery COVID jab,

Bild, 2021, Polizei stoppt illegale Impfaktion an Flughafen,

Spiegel, 2021, AfD-Großspender spritzt nicht zugelassenen Impfstoff,

Südwestrundfunk (SWR), 2021, Kein Held im Kampf gegen Covid-19: Winfried Stöcker und das Antigen,

Forbes, 2022, German Doctor Who Boasted Of Giving 20,000 Homemade Covid Vaccines Under Investigation,

Vice, 2021, Hundreds of People Queued Up to Be Injected With an Illegal ‘Homemade’ Vaccine,

The Independent, 2021, Investigation launched after German doctor administers 20,000 home-made Covid ‘vaccines’,

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