KEY POINTS

  • A study shows that only 7.3% developed coronavirus antibodies in Sweden
  • Sweden's strategy against COVID-19 is to develop herd immunity
  • Public health officials now say their predictive models could be wrong

Just 7.3% of Stockholm's residents have developed coronavirus antibodies by April's end amid Sweden's bid for herd immunity, a new study reveals. Sweden was one of a handful of countries that did not implement a lockdown to curb the pandemic even as much of the world shut down.

The results of the study, from 1,118 tests conducted by Sweden's Public Health Agency, is raising concerns over the country's hesitation to set strict measures to slow down the risks of transmissions. Its approach had come in for praise from the WHO, which called the country a "model" for battling the virus. That praise is beginning to now look more like some of the other misguided advice by the global health body over pandemic, which has raise U.S. President Donald Trump's ire. 

The country's chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said in a press conference that the percentage was lower than expected. "But not remarkably lower, maybe one or a couple of percent," Tegnell said. "It squares pretty well with the models we have."

Sweden will still carry out the same number of tests every week, for an eight-week period.

Experts say that to achieve herd immunity, 70% to 90% of the population should have caught the virus and developed antibodies to it. Michael Mina of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health said in a recent interview for The World that no community has successfully achieved herd immunity without a vaccine.

Tom Britton, the math professor who helped developed the prediction model for Sweden's Public Health Agency, previously forecasted that 25% of the population should have been infected by May 1. He also predicted that the second wave of COVID-19 will come in autumn, but Sweden's infection rate will be lower.

Britton is now saying that that they might have made a mistake in their calculations.

"It means either the calculations made by the agency and myself are quite wrong, which is possible, but if that’s the case it’s surprising they are so wrong,” Britton said. “Or more people have been infected than developed antibodies.”

Figures from the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine show that Sweden has one of the highest deaths per capita, trailing Spain, Italy, France and the U.K. As of May 21, Sweden has 32,172 coronavirus cases and 3,871 deaths, involving mostly the older population.

stockholm-1824368_1920 Sweden's herd immunity strategy against coronavirus is not getting good results. Photo: Pixabay

Compared to most European countries, Sweden didn't close businesses and schools. Residents, however, were told to avoid long travels and the government emphasized that it's every individual's personal responsibility to avoid contracting COVID-19.

The government has insisted that its strategy against COVID-19 will work. Bjorn Olsen of the Uppsala University in Sweden said that reaching herd immunity is "a long way off” based on the study’s findings.