Herd Immunity to COVID-19 Fails to Materialize in Sweden

Sweden COVID 19 Herd Immunity

Sweden’s strategy during the pandemic relied on individual responsibility and the concept of ‘folkvett,’ rather than implementing strict lockdown measures like other European countries.

Sweden’s policy of allowing the controlled spread of COVID-19 viral infection among the population has so far failed to deliver the country’s previously stated goal of herd immunity. Commenting on recent antibody testing clinical and research findings, authors of a paper published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, write that Sweden’s higher rates of viral infection, hospitalization, and mortality compared with neighboring countries may have serious implications for Scandinavia and beyond.

Rather than imposing a hard lockdown in March as most European and Scandinavian countries did, Sweden’s strategy in dealing with the pandemic has been to rely on people’s individual responsibility to curtail the spread of the disease. This follows the Swedish sociocultural concept of ‘folkvett’; the common sense of the people as a collective.

The health authorities predicted that 40% of the Stockholm population would have had the disease and acquired antibodies by May 2020. However, the actual prevalence figure was around 15%. While clinical and research findings suggest that severely infected COVID-19 patients do acquire antibodies in the immediate and early recovery phase of their illness, antibodies are much less commonly found in only mildly ill or asymptomatic patients. This means they are very likely not to be immune, and so cannot act as a bulwark against further spread of infection amongst the community.

Lead author Professor David Goldsmith said: “It is clear that not only are the rates of viral infection, hospitalization, and mortality (per million population) much higher than those seen in neighboring Scandinavian countries, but also that the time-course of the epidemic in Sweden is different, with continued persistence of higher infection and mortality well beyond the few critical weeks period seen in Denmark, Finland, and Norway.” He added that in these countries, rapid lock-down measures brought in from early March seem to have been initially more successful in curtailing the infection surge and thus the malign consequences of COVID-19 on the country as a whole.

Prof Goldsmith said: “We in the UK would do well to remember we nearly trod the same path as Sweden, as herd immunity was often discussed here in early March. Right now, despite strict (but tardy) lock-down in the UK, and the more measured Swedish response, both countries have seen high seven-day averaged COVID-19 death rates compared to other Scandinavian and European countries.”

The authors do say, however, that only once the pandemic and impact of measures taken are fully understood, after one or two years at least, can we begin fairly then to judge what was done correctly.

Reference: “Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden’s prized herd immunity is nowhere in sight” by Eric J W Orlowski, David J A Goldsmith and David J A Golds, 11 August 2020, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
DOI: 10.1177/0141076820945282

12 Comments on "Herd Immunity to COVID-19 Fails to Materialize in Sweden"

  1. Either this article is “complete poop” or the actual paper is, not because it’s based on false data, but because the writer (or scientists?) say this:
    “The actual prevalence figure was around 15%” – objective data, no problem;
    “While clinical and research findings SUGGEST that severely infected Covid-19 patients do acquire antibodies in the immediate and early recovery phase of their illness, antibodies are much less commonly found in only mildly ill or asymptomatic patients. This means they are VERY LIKELY not to be immune, AND SO cannot act as a bulwark against further spread of infection amongst the community.” – So the writer or the scientists came from a SUGGESTION to a VERY LIKELY and then, based on that, they infer and claim a new fact, which other scientists will base and corroborate their studies with. Sorry if I’m wrong about it, but I don’t think this is right.

  2. Three thoughts come to mind:

    1) Why the obsession with the Herd Immunity claim from Sweden? Not once had state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell publicly claimed that was the goal, not once. The goal was to avoid the health system collapse.

    2) Why this article in August 14th when the most relevant recent data mentioned is from May? Since then we have learned that not only antibodies are how our bodies fights the SARS-CoV-2, but the T Cells plays an important role so both should be considered.

    3) The Scandinavian countries share many things, but population characteristics is not one of them. Swedes are far mobile, cosmopolitan and large foreign population; all more risk of contagion. Spain and Portugal look the similar, but also had got different rates of cases and mortality; Spain’s population relevant characteristics being more like Sweden and Portugal more like Norway’s.

    Sweden took a bold move, but, unlike suggested, it was a calculated one based on the data available. Sweden always kept the foot just hovering on the break if things went out of control. Swedes, unlike most other citizens, were informed early on of the pros and cons of each approach and continues to mainly support their choice. Ironically, the rest of the world now, even with the resurgence on the rate of contagion, quietly are following Sweden’s approach of social distancing without general shut downs… Wasn’t the conclusion we needed to shut down everything as early on as possible?!

    One final note, don’t confuse Trump’s disregard with Sweden’s approach, one was based on ignorance, the other in a thoroughly calculation based on scientific data of the time.

    • Correct, and the last 2 sentences of the zerohedge article are especially telling – “There is no evidence anywhere in the world that lockdowns or masks have *stopped* the spread of the virus. Sweden was one of the few places where cooler heads prevailed, and the scientists realized that attempts to stop the virus would be worse than the disease itself, in the form of economic and social ruin.”

  3. What a pile of crap. This must be the dumbest thing I’ve read in a long while. There is no spread up here any longer. T-cell immunity is most likely up around 50%, meaning that herd immunity is reached when anti-body immunity is between 10-20%. Which is what we see here in Sweden. No more deaths, no more ICU, and tiny spread.

  4. JW, hold the horses! T-Cells are important factor but highly unlikely to be at that magnitude. The only study published and with a particular population suggested to be contributing around 1/3 of all the immunity.

    Again, Sweden never went after herd immunity, it went after a sustainable containment based on what was scientifically published till them. With what we know now, I doubt swedes would have chosen a different path either, they would just have made corrections but the strategy would have been the same; medical and economic sustainability for the long term of a pandemic. The rest of the countries are actually following now far similar strategies to Sweden’s rather than their own from back on March.

  5. A few things;

    1. Antibody tests will not tell you how many total people have been infected. Based on the most current science, it would appear that antibody tests right now reveal less than half the total Covid infected.

    2. T-cell cross immunity can be as high as 80% in some places. One study said 20-50%, the study that discovered T-cell cross immunity found 40-60%, and one German study had it as high as 80%. It will obviously vary from place to place.

    3. Sweden is seeing “suppression” results despite no mask mandate or mandatory lock downs. It takes a lot of cognitive dissonance to argue they haven’t reached some form of herd immunity.

  6. There seem to be confusion here; T-Cells are indeed very important for tackling Covid-19, The BBC recently reported that there is already 40-60% T-Cell immunity from unexposed individuals.

    My question here is, have we found the differential from individuals with T-Cells before Covid-19 exposure (or general population) vs people that had developed T-Cells from exposure to Covid-19? That, together with the antibodies, would help us all determinate the real advance of the pandemic? Either way, this article falls below standards, specially now in August.

  7. It is obvious that the author of this article has no clue as to how herd immunity actually works. In the 1920s the claim was that the mortality rate of measles cases (known because of symptoms) were fatal. By the 1950s, it was less than 1%. Having said that, I grew up in the 1950s, and I, along with about 2/3 of the kids I went to elementary school with, had symptomatic measles. None died, nor have I met anyone who knows of someone dying.
    Corona viruses mutate frequently, that is why cold and flu vaccines are of dubious value. The real Covid 19 mortality rate has been shown to be less than the H1N1 flu. “Cases” mean nothing. You may have the virus but be asymptomatic. Iceland has the highest rate of testing its population, and the statistics have been consistent: approximately 50% of those tested, have tested positive. Of the 50% testing positive, approximately 50% are asymptomatic. Of the 50% symptomatic, approximately 30% have mild to severe symptoms. The mortality rate from this flu is in line with other “bad” flu years.
    The statistics generated by the high rate of testing are useless, because there is nothing with which to compare them. Seasonal flu has never been tested in this manner, and unless this testing rate continues in perpetuity, the statistics generated will be equally as useless. Could there be bad side effects after recovery? Of course, but that is something that has never been tracked previously, so again, unless testing continues forever, there will be nothing with which to compare.
    I’m not even going to start on the reliability of the testing.

  8. Looking at the numbers of transmission in Sweden during the Lockdown moment of the rest of the world, there has been studies suggesting that even if Sweden had implemented the exact same measures as everyone else at the time, thousends would still die in Sweden. A lot more than in the other Nordic countries. This suggest that the biggest factor in the Swedish case was chance and unlucky circumstances. The virus took a much firmer grip initially especially in Stockholm. Time wise it fit well with one of the most important leisure travel weeks of Sweden took place in stockholm during Europes massive spike.

  9. Is it so hard to consider that Swedes chose the right path on this!? Check most recent daily death rate in Sweden and consider they are not in lockdown…Also why publish political piece on a science website?

  10. “This means they are very likely not to be immune, and so cannot act as a bulwark against further spread of infection amongst the community.”

    This is an unsupported conclusion. Just because they do not have antibodies does not mean that they will not be a bulwark against further spread. In fact if they were asymptomatic to begin with, then they will likely be asymptomatic moving forward and are in fact likely to be a bulwark against spread. Antibodies are not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to fighting the infection or fighting the spread. There is more to be understood about the human immune system.

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