As It Happens

Wake up sheeple! Shepherd uses her flock to make a point about vaccines

Shepherd Wiebke Schmidt-Kochan arranged 700 sheep and goats to form the image of a giant syringe in a bid to boost vaccine uptake in Germany.

German woman arranges 700 sheep and goats into shape of giant syringe

About 700 sheep and goats were arranged into the shape of a giant syringe in a field at Schneverdingen, south of Hamburg, Germany, as part of a publicity stunt to boost vaccine uptake. (Hanspeter Etzold)

Wiebke Schmidt-Kochan hates it when people derisively call folks "sheep" for vaccinating themselves against COVID-19. After all, she says lining up like sheep to get the jab is actually a terrific idea. 

"First of all, sheep are not stupid," Schmidt-Kochan, a shepherd in Schneverdingen, Germany, told As It Happens host Carol Off. "For sheep, the herd is the safest place. And if the herd is fine, the single sheep is fine."

It's a lesson in community she wishes more people in her home country could take to heart. That's why she and her husband agreed to use their animals in a publicity stunt to boost vaccine uptake in Germany, lining up more than 700 sheep and goats in a field to form the shape of a 100-metre-long syringe. 

"As a shepherd, you don't get out and go to the streets to say to people, 'Go get vaccinated.' We need to stay at home to take care of our animals," she said. "So this is our way to say, 'Hey, we think it's good.' "

Taking a sheep shot 

The idea was the brainchild of Hanspeter Etzold, who works with shepherds, companies and animals to run team-building events in the northern German town.

"I have noticed how enthusiastically the sheep are received and that it simply reaches people deep inside, which is perhaps not possible rationally, with rational arguments," Etzold told Reuters.

Shepherd Wiebke Schmidt-Kochan spent several days practising with her animals. But she said in the end, it wasn't difficult to work things out — she laid out pieces of bread in the shape of a syringe, and the sheep and goats gobbled them up. (Hanspeter Etzold)

All Schmidt-Kochan needed to make the stunt happen were some crusty pieces of bread.

She trained the sheep ahead of time, she said, getting them used to eating food that's been arranged on the ground in straight lines, and to lining up side by side so they don't have to compete for the tasty morsels.

The challenge, she said, is the timing. Once a sheep runs out of food, it will break formation in search of the next crumb.

"You have … maybe three or five minutes until they've eaten off the bread," she said. "So you need to be fast with the picture."

Herd immunity 

As of Wednesday, 71.4 per cent of people in Germany had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and 40.1 per cent had received booster shots,  according to government data. The country has approved vaccines for everyone aged five and up.

This places Germany among Western European countries with the lowest vaccination rates, data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows.

At the same time, only around five to 10 per cent of Germans are vehemently opposed to vaccination, and the rest are undecided, according to RKI, the government agency responsible for disease control and prevention.

That's why the government and other organizations have, in recent weeks, been focused on promoting an accelerated vaccination campaign to combat the rise of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

As a shepherd, Schmidt-Kochan knows the importance of vaccine uptake to herd immunity. She's responsible for vaccinating her animals against diseases that could harm them. And says having hold-outs would jeopardize the whole flock. 

"I can't say 'I'll just vaccinate 70 per cent and leave 30 per cent alone,' " she said. "I always need to take care of the whole herd."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters and The Associated Press. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. 

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