How Effective is Sweden’s Controversial Pandemic Strategy?

Sweden’s controversial pandemic-fighting strategy is beginning to yield results, according to its top epidemiologist. Anders Tegnell, the lead architect of Sweden’s “trust-based” pandemic-fighting strategy said that confirmed cases and deaths in the country are beginning to stabilize.

‘The Situation is Stable’

“In major parts of Sweden, around Stockholm, we have reached a plateau [in new cases], and we’re already seeing the effect of herd immunity. In a few weeks’ time, we’ll see even more of the effects of that. And in the rest of the country, the situation is stable,” Tegnell said.

Tegnell also added that modelling data suggests that 20% of Stockholm’s population is already immune to the virus.

The Controversy of Herd Immunity

Like most areas of research into the virus, the science of COVID-19’s herd immunity is still being researched. Many scientists argue that herd immunity cannot work without a vaccine.

“Herd immunity is not this magical number where once you reach that point nobody else gets infected,” said Shane Crotty, an immunologist at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California.

“It would no longer be a full-blown epidemic once you get to herd immunity. The virus would still spread, it would still infect people, it would still kill people. It would just be a less common event.”

Current estimates predict that herd immunity will slow the spread of the virus once 50% to 70% of the global population become immune.

Does COVID-19 Reactivate?

Earlier in April, however, Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the coronavirus may be “reactivating” in people who have previously been cured of the disease, after 51 new cases of possible reactivation were seen in the country. The same phenomenon has been seen in China, as scientists struggle to identify the reason why. One theory has attributed these reactivation cases to incosistencies in test results.

The question remains: if the virus can reactivate in former patients, can herd immunity be viable without a vaccine, as Tegnell claims?

Group of Swedish Scientists Say Country Needs to Get Stricter ASAP

Although Tegnell boasts that Sweden’s controversial pandemic strategy is proving effective, global health experts (including Swedish experts) have warned that it is too early to conclude the success of this highly risky method. Last week, 22 high profile Swedish scientists penned an article in the Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, urging Swedish politicians to implement stricter restrictive measures. They stated that Tegnell’s methods have failed.

Tegnell is ‘Playing Russian Roulette with the Swedish People’

For Marcus Carlsson, a mathematician at Lund University, Tegnell’s approach is a “mad experiment with 10 million people.”

“At least if we’re going to do this as a people … lay the facts on the table so that we understand the reasons. The way I am feeling now is that we are being herded like a flock of sheep towards disaster.”

Carlsson further criticizes Tegnell as: “playing Russian roulette with the Swedish population.”

Sweden is currently seeing huge spikes in infection rates among children and the elderly, with the elderly also seeing high fatality rates.

In an article with science journal Nature, published on April 21, Tegnell acknowledged that, according to Swedish law, a strict lockdown cannot be legislated in the country. By law, Swedes are supposed to bear the personal responsibility of social distancing, he explained.

“The Swedish laws on communicable diseases are mostly based on voluntary measures — on individual responsibility.

Tegnell: ‘No Legal Possibility’ for a Lockdown in Sweden

“It clearly states that the citizen has the responsibility not to spread a disease. This is the core we started from, because there is not much legal possibility to close down cities in Sweden using the present laws. Quarantine can be contemplated for people or small areas, such as a school or a hotel. But [legally] we cannot lock down a geographical area,” he pronounced.

Asked for evidence concerning his trust-based approach, Tegnell replied: “It is difficult to talk about the scientific basis of a strategy with these types of disease, because we do not know much about it and we are learning as we are doing, day by day.

“Close down, lockdown, closing borders — nothing has a historical scientific basis, in my view. We have looked at a number of European Union countries to see whether they have published any analysis of the effects of these measures before they were started and we saw almost none.”

Sweden’s COVID-19 Death Toll

In the last 14 days, Sweden has reported 1,250 deaths. Neighbors, Denmark, Finland and Norway have reported 166, 109 and 86 deaths respectively. At 1,250, Sweden’s total fatality rate is more than three times the combined total of its three neighboring countries.

Both scientific data, and scientific experts, call into question Tegnell’s claims of success. Tegnell, however, is adamant that figures prove the trust-based system’s efficacy. The epidemiologist stated that he does not believe his method poses any risk to the Swedish people.

“The public-health agency has released detailed modelling on a region-by-region basis that comes to much less pessimistic conclusions than other researchers in terms of hospitalizations and deaths per thousand infections,” he said.

“There has been an increase, but it is not traumatic so far. Of course, we are going into a phase in the epidemic where we will see a lot more cases in the next few weeks — with more people in intensive-care units — but that is just like any other country. Nowhere in Europe has been able to slow down the spread considerably.”

Sweden has now begun countrywide immunity tests. With Stockholm up to an alleged 20% herd immunity, only a longitudinal study can assess whether the trust-based system is successful. Presently, there are too many uncontrolled variables in Tegnell’s methods to believe that his strategy is yielding good results. The world’s salvation rests, regardless, in the development of a vaccine.