New study finds Sweden's herd immunity goal 'nowhere in sight'

Residents in Sweden.
Residents in Sweden. Photo credit: Getty

New research has found Sweden's 'herd immunity' approach to COVID-19 has so far been unsuccessful.

British researchers David Goldsmith and Eric Orlowski published their study in the Journal of Royal Society of Medicine on Tuesday which examines infection rates across Sweden in comparison to countries with different approaches to the virus.

Sweden has been working towards herd immunity, which is when enough people catch the disease that it can't be transmitted as easily.

Borders, cafes, schools or public transport haven't closed. Instead, the country is trusting residents to voluntarily adopt softer measures.

But the new study claims: "Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden's prized herd immunity is nowhere in sight".

The authors found that, compared with other Scandinavian countries which implemented stricter lockdowns, Sweden had "continued persistence of higher infection and mortality (as one is inexorably linked to the other) well beyond the few critical weeks period seen in Denmark, Finland and Norway, whose rapid lockdown measures seem to have been initially more successful in curtailing the infection surge".

They also noted that Sweden had higher rates of viral infection, hospitalisation and mortality.

The study also found that health experts had over predicted the percent of the population in the capital, Stockholm, would have developed antibodies to the disease.

Experts had thought by May 40 percent of residents would have had the virus, but the actual figure is only around 15 percent.

"Epidemiologists had estimated that about 70 percent of the population attaining immunity should be enough to achieve herd immunity."

The study also found that exposure to COVID-19 is similar in Stockholm and London despite different lockdown strategies, BBC reported.

The option of herd immunity was considered in the UK early on but dismissed.

"Lest this strategy seem like just the traditional risky Swedish exceptionalism, we in the UK would do well to remember we nearly trod the same path.

"Right now, despite 'strict (but tardy) lockdown' in the UK, and the more measured Swedish response, both countries have high seven-day averaged Sars-CoV-2 death rates when compared to other Scandinavian and European countries."