In the Italian Alps, traditional medicine is thriving, as is Covid

SAN CANDEDO, ITALY – For a family of organic farmers living on the side of a snow-capped mountain in the northern Italian province of Bolzano, the coronavirus couldn’t match the immune-stimulating effects of fresh alpine air, the refreshment brought on by a good hike and the healing powers of algae, herbs and vegetables in the forest.

“If someone coughs, we make onion compresses, body cream from thyme and myrtle, and we drink a lot of tea,” said Sabine Dornwalder, 37, an unvaccinated farmer in the scenic valleys near the border with highly contagious Austria. “I know how to protect myself.”

Bolzano has traditionally had the healthiest, fittest and most active population in Italy. Now, it is also the region with the highest rate of coronavirus infection. The traditional preference for natural remedies has extended to widespread rejection of vaccines, making it the least vaccinated region in Italy.

Although officials have raised concerns about conspiracy theories and misinformation about vaccines spread by right-wing populists, experts here say nature-loving health fans and science skeptics are at the heart of skepticism about a vaccine that is largely contributing to the increase in infections, filling hospitals and impose new restrictions.

“The main reason is because they trust nature,” said Patrick Franzoni, the doctor who is leading the county’s vaccination campaign. “They don’t understand that it doesn’t help fight Covid.”

With about 70 percent of the entire province vaccinated, Bolzano has the highest number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Italy, and the highest proportion of ICU beds occupied by coronavirus patients. Dr Franzoni said not all patients in intensive care have been vaccinated.

He said that many patients are arriving at the hospital with advanced cases of the virus, which increases the possibility of their death.

Doctors in the area have long complained that they often delay diagnosing serious illnesses because locals – who consume the fewest pharmaceutical drugs in the country and have the lowest rate of tetanus, flu and hepatitis B vaccinations – often wait weeks beforehand. Call an ambulance.

Ms Dornwalder, a skeptic about the vaccine at the organic farm, argued that living in a hypothetical wilderness area, residents were essentially not at risk of contracting the virus or passing it on to others. She said her main contact with the outside world is the people who rent apartments on the farm. Then she said she wears a mask and keeps it away.

She was forced to quit her job as an obstetrician this year when the government mandated coronavirus vaccines for all healthcare workers. Pregnant with a third child, she refused to allow doctors to administer vaccinations to her daughters, and treated the family with vitamin C, plantain grass and pine buds.

“If you trust yourself and nature, you don’t have to be afraid,” said her husband Marcus Burgmann, 39, as he threw a snowball at the couple’s dog to fetch her.

The Italian and local governments imposed stricter restrictions in the region last week to contain the virus, fearing a destabilizing health situation after a spike in cases.

The new rules upset Massimo Galletti, a shop owner who sells herbs, organic foods and other natural remedies that are unpollinated in the city of Dobbiaco. He’s also a triathlon coach, and complained that he couldn’t have coffee at the local pool café. He said the government didn’t realize how much space the residents had and how they were all outdoors.

“For the people who live here, not being vaccinated should not lead to restrictions,” he said. “We are different. We live different lives.”

His wife, Fronnie Baumgartner, agreed.

“I don’t smoke. I don’t take medication,” said Ms. Baumgartner, 56, an ecologist who clears rubbish from the local river. “Why should I put something in my body that is not good for me?”

Many people in Bolzano have surnames that sound German, as the province was assigned to Italy when the German and Austrian empires were dismantled after World War I. It has maintained its Austrian roots ever since, with locals dressed in Liederhuisen, eating Lenzer pies and speaking better German than Italian. Their frequent exchanges with Austria also emerged as the reason for the recent rise in coronavirus cases in the region.

The wealthy and elegant people of Bolzano are notorious for their independence, often influenced by decisions from Rome. This has extended to vaccine mandates, especially since the aversion to vaccination runs deep here.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, after occupying the region, Napoleon annexed it and annexed it to Bavaria, which in 1807 imposed smallpox vaccinations on its subjects. In 1809, the people of the area revolted in a partially armed rebellion against vaccination, which they believed injected Protestantism into their Catholic veins. To spread the alarm, they set fires all over the area.

Earlier this month, on the eve of new restrictions on non-vaccinators, hundreds of anti-vaccination activists went back to their dates, lighting bonfires and candles in their gardens and balconies.

“We want to show we’ve identified a high risk,” read a Facebook post on the page of a local group of vaccine skeptics called Wir-Noi — meaning “we” in German and Italian. “May the fire of freedom roam the world.”

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