Covid-19: Does Sweden have herd immunity?

Source: Sebastian Rushworth M.D.

“Herd immunity” is a technical concept I can’t pretend to understand well. I am interested in the Swedish experience for a different reason: How Sweden responded to Covid-19 is how the U.S. used to respond to epidemics, but chose not to this time. In my view we should go back to the old way.

That is, a public health emergency should inspire government action to inform, not control the public. I have lived through chicken pox, measles, influenza and AIDS epidemics in the U.S., and never once been unable to eat in a restaurant or go to a public place because of some government mandate. Such mandates that restrict normal social and economic behavior would have been considered — during most of my life — patently un-American.

I don’t mean to suggest that something has gone deeply wrong with America. Only that Sweden proves that how we used to deal with infectious disease as a matter of public policy still works today. There is no conflict with our values, or at least no conflict with the values we used to hold. Covid-19 was never a good excuse for creating a Brave New World.

17 thoughts on “Covid-19: Does Sweden have herd immunity?

  1. The epidemics that you have lived through (chicken pox, measles, influenza and AIDS”) are of a very different character than COVID-19. More contagious and more deadly.

    That fact has been well understood since January or February. One famous person in a position to know described it as a “plague.” He said . . . “It’s a very tricky situation, it’s a — it goes it goes — through air, Bob, that’s always tougher than the touch, you know the touch you don’t have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air, and that’s how it’s passed. And so, that’s a very tricky one, that’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than your — you know, your — even your strenuous flues.”

    “Herd immunity” occurs when a high percentage of the population at risk for the disease is no longer susceptible because they have already been exposed and survived. That leaves the virus with fewer potential new victims so its exponential spread stops. The technical definition of “herd immunity” is met when, on average, each victim infects less that one other member of the herd. It does NOT mean that individuals in the “herd” are safe – just less likely to run into someone who can transmit it.

    “Herd immunity” assumes, of course, that surviving confers immunity which it may or may not do with this virus. So far, we do not know one way or another. And the vaccines that are promised may or may not work. We have never developed “herd immunity” for cold viruses and it seems that this one is in that same family.

    What would it take to achieve “herd immunity” in the United States? Assuming it is even possible. Estimates vary but WHO uses a figure of 65% of the population – in our case that means 213 million cases. Our mortality rate on confirmed cases is about 3%, so the “cost” of relying on “herd immunity” as Sweden did would be about 1.4 million dead and millions more with permanently impaired health. By the way, Sweden’s mortality rate so far is a multiple of neighboring Nordic countries who have implemented social distancing measures.

    If we do not develop an effective vaccine – still an open question – it is unlikely that we will ever get back to “normal” where you think nothing about going to a store, the cinema, a concert, a rally or getting on a plane.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RE: “What would it take to achieve ‘herd immunity’ in the United States?”

      I don’t know and don’t care. My post, as stated, concerns a completely different topic: The difference between informing and controlling the public. I favor the former.


      1. Well, if we were attacked on the mainland, then informing the public should take care of it.

        Let the border states do the fighting, then, if needed, the feds can send in some tanks if they are not all rusted and corroded. And if they ask nicely. Until then, the governors can buy some weapons on the open market, competing with each other when shortages occur.

        Pretty much the way Trump handled the pandemic. We might have to restrict travel from the invaders. Not totally, just enough to make a political point.

        Oh, he did not inform the public until a few months in to the pandemic, so let’s just give the invader a few months head start, then go from there.

        Meanwhile, his surrogates at FOX, can say that the invaders are teens with paintball guns for starters.

        Hey, if it is Canada we might get some universal health insurance out of the deal.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Informing the public was a duty that Trump himself said he didn’t want to do because it would cause a panic.

        So neither of your wishes were met. And the actions “controlling” behavior have been proven to be effective is containing the spread … until people say that masks are an infringement on their rights. Well, those folks infringe on my rights by NOT wearing a mask. Director Redfield made that very clear in his testimony before Congress last week )or was it Monday? The past few days have jammed into one for reasons other than discussions here or the topics themselves.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. RE: “So neither of your wishes were met.”

          Is that a fact? Tell us, what information about the virus did the president or the administration hide from the public?


          1. Seriously? You are not so obtuse as to not have HEARD him in his own words the downplaying of the effects of the virus. Also his continued attempts to stifle the scientists and doctors.

            Your willful blindness to what this man has done and continues to do is one of the reasons my father says you can’t discuss anything in a reasonable manner with Libertarians.

            Liked by 1 person

      3. Uh, Mr. Roberts, your post was EXPLICITLY about how we should follow Sweden’s example and go back to the “old way” of dealing with epidemics. So, it is HIGHLY relevant to see what that would cost if we were to take your advice. Achieving “herd immunity” would cost somewhere well north of a million lives. You don’t care? Okay, I believe that.

        There is a middle ground between “informing” and “controlling” that you seem unaware of. Let’s call it leading. You know, it is what leaders do. Trump did not even try to lead us through this crisis based on the science. In fact, instead of informing, he chose to misinform. Since you favor “informing” why do you continue to make excuses for Trump misinforming?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. RE: “Achieving ‘herd immunity’ would cost somewhere well north of a million lives.”

          That’s debatable. Your source seems to think so. Mine (the article I posted) notes that some parts of the U.S. have already achieved herd immunity.

          RE: “There is a middle ground between ‘informing’ and ‘controlling’ that you seem unaware of. Let’s call it leading.”

          I think the administration did “leading” just fine. In fact, several governors — notably Newsome and Cuomo — praised his efforts.

          RE: “In fact, instead of informing, he chose to misinform.”

          How did the president misinform anyone? Can you give a specific example?


          1. “How did the president misinform anyone? Can you give a specific example?”

            He frequently told the public that the disease was no worse than the flu. He knew that was not the truth and he admitted to Bob Woodward that (a) he knew that it was a “plague”, a “real killer” and both deadlier and more contagious than the flu and that (b) he decided to “play it down”.

            He also told the public – when he already knew better – that it would go away soon – down to zero cases in week or two. We are now well above 6 million cases and climbing. As Trump was warned in February.

            He is STILL slinging bullshit about all aspects of the crisis. He told a rally this week that covid-19 “affects virtually nobody” younger than 18. “Take your hat off to the young, because they have a hell of an immune system. But it affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing.”

            Yet another deadly lie. Many thousands of young people have been severely damaged or killed by the virus and in any case become carriers if they are exposed.

            Ask yourself, if President Obama told deadly lies almost every day would you be protesting vehemently? Or just shrugging it off? Don’t answer. It is a rhetorical question.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. All three of your examples are instances of the president repeating the scienctific view.

            The first was stated by Dr. Fauci and has been the CDC’s position since the beginning of the pandemic.

            The second is based on the standard model of the course that epidemics normally take.

            And the third is a well-known fact which you can look up at the CDC.


          3. “All three of your examples are instances of the president repeating the scientific view.”

            Outright falsehoods are shitty arguments. They really are.

            It was NEVER the scientific view that Covid was no worse than the flu. And when Trump told the America people that LIE he was telling Bob Woodward the truth.

            It was NEVER the scientific view that Covid would be down to zero cases shortly or that it would simply go away. Unless you and Trump are talking about geologic time scales.

            It was NEVER and is not now the scientific view that Covid affects virtually nobody” younger than 18. More dangerous LIES. It KILLS young people, puts them in the hospital and/or ruins their health. And makes them carriers that can infect their parents and grandparents. This is an obvious distortion of the fact that younger healthier people have a better chance to survive in the short term.

            By the way, there is NO part of the USA that has achieved herd immunity. That is another LIE which Dr. Fauci batted down the other day when Senator Rand Paul tried to trot it out in that hearing. In fact, the idea of herd immunity makes little sense for specific narrow geographic regions of a country that allows free movement from place to place.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, a slightly lower death rate, but they are still 13th in the world versus our 10th place. 581/million versus 623. This is according to Worldometer, a data site that has been tracking every nation, everyday by a number of metrics. Pretty much the same as Johns Hopkins, give or take some stat numbers.

      We are the winner in total cases and total deaths worldwide. Better than a fifth of the cases and deaths with less than 5% of the population. American exceptionalism perhaps?

      Fauci’s fear factory? Respect is more like it. As in respect the coronavirus and use your brains rather than #LIBERATE.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Let’s see.
      Sweden followed a deliberate policy of NOT implementing effective national social distancing.
      We followed no deliberate policy at all which amounted to NOT implementing effective national social distancing. Lo and behold both of our countries are among the worst. Through yesterday Sweden has suffered 58 deaths per 100K people and we have suffered 62. And that somehow proves the Swedes were right? I don’t think so.

      Sweden’s immediate neighbors DID implement effective national policies of social distancing. What were the results? Norway 5 deaths per 100K. Finland 6. Denmark and Germany 11. The evidence is in. Letting the pandemic run its course with minimal national intervention costs lives – lots of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RE: “Lo and behold both of our countries are among the worst.”

        Your logic escapes me. The “worst” per capita death rates are Peru and Belgium, according to CDC data, both nearly twice that of the U.S. and Sweeden.

        Moreover, that the U.S. and Sweden have comparable per capita death rates suggests that the different policy approaches were comparably effective, which is consistent with my point that Sweden’s public policy was as good as our own. Put another way, Sweden’s limited population control worked as well as our own efforts at more restrictive population control.

        Your argument treats the U.S. as a statistical outier, when it isn’t, and then misinterprets a similarity as a difference when it isn’t.


        1. “Your logic escapes me.”

          The problem is that you want to claim that our policy and that of Sweden are different when, in fact, they are essentially the same – let the virus run its course and hope for the best. No national program of social distancing, no nation-wide mandatory use of masks in public places and the government encouraging people to live more or less normally. It is therefore NOT surprising that the death rates are similar. And the fact that the death rates in both countries is a multiple of that in countries with more strict social distancing policies is strong evidence that Sweden and the United State went down the wrong path.

          Even if there are a few small countries that have done worse, it remains true that we are among the worst. Because, in fact, we are.

          I have no idea what you comment about being a statistical outlier is getting at.

          Liked by 1 person

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