Doubts over Sweden's herd immunity gamble as one in 14 have Covid-19 antibodies

Only one in 14 Swedes has developed Covid-19 antibodies that cast doubt on the country’s immunity response to the coronavirus.

A Swedish study found that only 7.3 percent of Stockholmers had developed antibodies by the end of April.

The country’s lead immunity strategy was championed by chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.

He recommended taking voluntary measures against the virus rather than a mandatory shutdown imposed by many other countries, which has divisions at home and abroad.

Sweden has kept most schools, restaurants, bars and companies open, even though all of Europe was behind closed doors.

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The policy has criticized it with death rates much higher than in neighboring Scandinavian countries, even if much lower than in countries such as Britain, Italy and France that have closed.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care in Sweden has fallen by a third from its peak at the end of April, and health authorities say the outbreak is on the decline.

However, Sweden recorded the highest number of Covid-19 deaths per capita in Europe over a seven-day period.

The antibody study was designed to determine whether herd immunity was viable.

Doubts over Sweden's herd immunity gamble as one in 14 have Covid-19 antibodies

If so, enough people in the population would have developed immunity to the infectious disease to effectively stop its spread.

The findings were roughly consistent with models predicting that a third of the population of the Swedish capital would have had the virus by now and where at least limited immunity to the herd could have occurred, the Swedish health agency said Wednesday.

“It’s a little bit lower (than expected) but not notably lower, maybe a few percent,” Tegnell told a news conference in Stockholm. “It fits pretty well with the models we have.”

However, the concept of herd immunity has not been tested for the new coronavirus, and the degree and duration of immunity in recovered patients is equally uncertain.

Stockholm operates on something that is almost normal

The study is based on approximately 1100 tests from across the country, although only figures for Stockholm have been released.

Unlike the other Scandinavian countries, the Swedish government has not implemented widespread lockdown measures.

On the basis of a so-called ‘principle of responsibility’, the country has not only kept schools open, but they remain mandatory for children under the age of 16.

Cafés, bars and restaurants have also remained open to business, albeit with forced social distance measures.

Unlike most Europeans, Swedes eat in restaurants

The government has urged people to work from home wherever possible, without requiring them to.

While Swedish health authorities have emphasized that herd immunity is not an end in itself, it has also said that the strategy is only to slow the virus down enough for health services to cope with.

The World Health Organization has warned against raising hopes of herd immunity.

It said last week that global studies had found antibodies in only 1 to 10% of the population, results in line with recent findings in Spain and France.

Bjorn Olsen, Professor of Infectious Medicine at Uppsala University, is one of dozens of academics who have criticized Sweden’s pandemic and labeled the herd’s immunity as a ‘dangerous and unrealistic’ approach to dealing with COVID-19 .

“I think the herd’s immunity is still a long way off, if we ever reach it,” he said.


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