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COVID-19: The Case Against Herd Immunity

Marcello Ferrada de Noli has studied Sweden’s response to the virus and advises  countries elsewhere to reject the neoliberal model and survive instead

By Marcello Ferrada de Noli
October 16, 2020

The elderly have comprised the vast majority of Covid-19 fatalities in Sweden, either dying in care homes or their own residence, often alone.

By mid-May 2020, only 13 percent of the care home victims had received treatment at Swedish hospitals.  In August 2020, only five percent of the Covid-19 patients admitted for treatment at Swedish hospitals came from care home facilities.

Sweden has by far the highest proportion of deaths among confirmed Corona cases in the Nordic countries.  Let’s look into the possible reasons.

Herd Immunity

International comparisons of the Covid-19 situation may help to assess the efficacy of the different strategies used by developed countries’ health authorities.

Such strategies may have been assimilated by some countries formerly known as “Third World” because of continued economic dependency; the praxis of attributing superior technical know-how in matters of public health to countries seen as more economically developed still exists in some governing circles.

For this reason, populations in Latin America and Africa and other regions have been ruthlessly targeted with propaganda by developed countries promoting their epidemiological methods.

In Europe, Italy was the first country to apply the “lockdown” approach.  At the start of the “second wave” it had one of the lowest incidences of new Covid-19 cases.

The model presented as alternative is “herd immunity,” most associated with  Sweden’s neoliberal interpretation of it.

Economy First

The idea here is to prioritize the economy: no closing factories, schools, or restaurants.  Sweden’s Public Health Agency’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell said, “if we close the schools we would lose 25 percent of the labour force” (parents would have to stay at home).

He has also stated, “herd immunity is the one thing which eventually will stop the spread of this virus.” In the words of Johan Giesecke, the agency’s senior adviser, herd immunity strategy would consist of “letting the virus pass through the population.”

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In response to the international criticism that ensued, the Swedish government tried to distance itself from the term but in practice the strategy has not changed.

Sweden’s ambassador to the U.S. declared that “Stockholm could reach herd immunity by May.” However, five months’ later this has not been achieved, and Sweden’s economy has suffered just as much, if not more, than its neighbors who used lockdown measures.

The epidemiological indicators I present below expose the flawed, not to say macabre, effects of the Swedish exporting model.

The message to other nations is: Don’t buy it. Survive instead.

Case Fatality Rate in Sweden & Nordic
Neighbors: Denmark, Finland, Norway

Based on current international data, I have carried out a comparison of mortality indicators among Nordic countries that applied forms of lockdown, and Sweden.

There certainly are multiple models for such international epidemiological comparisons. However, I start with the simple method to determine whether there is a statistical significance in the reported differences regarding total number, number per capita, etc.

(As we know, not all differences in mortality rates are epidemiologically/statistically significant, although they can appear as such in media reports).

Results found through comparisons between the number of Covid-19 deaths in Sweden (n = 5,883) and ditto the total numbers in Denmark, Finland and Norway (n = 1,284), give a significant overrepresentation of the Swedish deaths (X2 = 3023.3239, p = <0.00001). The difference is thus highly statistically significant.

Another method is the Case Fatality Rate (hereinafter referred to as CFR). CFR intends to estimate the proportion of deaths among confirmed cases. It shows the proportion of those who were ill and who eventually died; the World Health Organization considers it “a measure of severity among detected cases.”

Among more than 200 countries included in the international tables on Coronavirus, Sweden is currently ranked 14th out of the 15 countries with the highest Covid-19 death rate per 1 M population.

However, when CFR is taken into account, Sweden increases to sixth place in that group, illustrating the significance of the CFR method.  This ranking position has remained rather even for Sweden. My calculation (as of Oct. 7 , 2020) indicates the same results established in a research paper from May 2020.

Regarding the comparison among the said Nordic countries, I have used two CFR calculation models. One is the usual CFR, which only needs the death toll and the number of reported Covid-19 patients.

The second consists of a more refined method, also recently described by the WHO, which in addition requires the number of cases that have recovered from the disease.

With the first method, the current CFR calculation results in: Denmark 2.18, Finland 3.16, Norway 1.8, and Sweden 6.11 percent.

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