Any discussion about Sweden as a model for fighting the pandemic refers back to the strategy’s chief architect, Anders Tegnell. Tegnell is the chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Health Agency. Sweden’s constitution prohibits
the government from interfering with the Public Health Agency’s decisions, giving Tegnell substantial power to steer the country’s strategy. In this April interview with Nature
Tegnell describes Sweden’s approach. You can also watch a more recent interview
with Tegnel where he continues to support the strategy despite the high number of deaths from COVID-19 in Sweden.
During the debate both Lena and Jonas refer to one of the first modelling studies to be published on the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, which warned on January 31, 2020, that “preparedness plans should be readied for quick deployment worldwide.” You can read the study in The Lancet, here
Part of the debate about the effectiveness of Sweden’s model for fighting the pandemic centres on the role that asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 play in spreading the virus. Lena argues that Sweden’s pandemic strategy is based on the belief that asymptomatic carriers, including children, do not pose a significant risk. An asymptomatic carrier refers to somebody who has the virus but doesn’t show any symptoms. There are also pre-symptomatic carriers, who are in the early stages of infection, and so don’t yet show any symptoms. You can learn about some of the studies that examine whether asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers help to spread COVID-19 here
During the debate Jonas states that he believes Sweden’s number of COVID cases have started to dramatically decline because the country has now achieved some herd immunity. Herd immunity occurs in a community when enough people have become immune (through infection or a vaccine) that they interrupt the chain of infection. In a recent interview
Anders Tegnell has also publicly stated his belief that herd immunity is operating in Sweden, with as much as 30% of the population now COVID-19 immune. A recent study by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine
does not support this view, suggesting that only 15% of the Swedish population has been exposed to the virus
One of the key questions about COVID-19 is whether contracting the virus provides immunity and for how long this immunity lasts. During the debate Jonas refers to a high level of antibodies (protective proteins generated by the system when under attack from a virus) currently existing in the Swedish population. He also suggested that T-cells, another form of immune response, perhaps developed from viruses other than COVID-19, could also be an important player in helping Sweden through a second wave of COVID-19 in the autumn. You can learn more about how antibodies and T-cells can protect us from COVID-19 here
and also here
One of the key characteristics of the COVID-19 virus is how it targets vulnerable members of a community. Both Jonas and Lena acknowledge the significant number of deaths due to COVID in Sweden’s long-term care homes. Sweden is also similar to countries around the world in that low-income neighbourhoods, where new immigrants settle, have been particularly hard hit by the virus. Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenberg, has the highest rate of COVID-19 in the country, and one neighborhood in particular, Bjergsonn, has born the brunt of the disease. You can read more about Bjergsonn and the COVID-19 “neighbourhood trap” here.