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Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Targeting Herd Immunity Could be Adopted Globally, Say Analysts

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 14 May 2020
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Illustration
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Augmenting herd immunity against COVID-19 is part of the Swedish government’s broader strategy—or at least a likely consequence of keeping schools, restaurants, and most businesses open— that is likely to be imitated by other countries across the world.

According to an article by political and social analysts in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs published by the Council on Foreign Relations, Swedish authorities have not officially declared a goal of reaching herd immunity against COVID-19, which most scientists believe is achieved when more than 60% of the population has had the virus. However, instead of declaring a lockdown, Sweden has asked its citizens to practice social distancing on a mostly voluntary basis. Swedish authorities have imposed some restrictions to flatten the curve, but have not introduced harsh controls, fines, policing, location-tracing technologies or apps. The analysts believe that augmenting immunity against COVID-19 is definitely part of Sweden’s broader strategy, with Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, projecting that Stockholm city could reach herd immunity as soon as this month. Based on calculations by Stockholm University mathematician Tom Britton, 40% immunity against COVID-19 in Sweden’s capital city should be sufficient to stop it from spreading in the region and that this could happen by mid-June.

Sweden’s response has succeeded in flattening the curve as well as improving immunity among the young and healthy population who face the lowest risk of serious complications from COVID-19. It has also managed to maintain some economic normalcy and a lower per capita death rate lower than that of Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK, although its per capita death rate has exceeded that of other Nordic countries. The Swedish government believes that the country’s higher death rate will appear comparatively lower in hindsight after efforts to contain the coronavirus fail in most countries and a large percentage of people become infected eventually. The analysts believe that at a time when a deadly second wave of the pandemic will be sweeping across the world, the worst will be behind Sweden.

Many countries, such as Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy and even the US, are now embracing some aspects of the Swedish approach towards tackling COVID-19 by beginning to ease restrictions. Given the enormous economic and social costs of lockdowns, the analysts believe that lockdowns are simply not sustainable for the amount of time that it will likely take to develop a vaccine. Easing restrictions will reduce economic, social, and political pressures, as well as allow populations to build up immunity against the coronavirus that could prove to be a much better option for fighting COVID-19 over the long term.

The analysts have warned that countries presently under a lockdown now could witness more severe outbreaks in the future. However, if these countries follow the Swedish path to herd immunity, then the total cost of the pandemic can reduce, and it is likely to end sooner. “At the end of the day, increased—and ultimately, herd—immunity may be the only viable defense against the disease, so long as vulnerable groups are protected along the way,” wrote the analysts.


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