Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist who helped shape the country’s frivolous response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has said that natural herd immunity has never been used to wipe out an infectious disease – and COVID-19 will be no different.
In an interview published in the German newspaper Die Zeit on Tuesday, Tegnell (who is sometimes compared to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House Coronavirus Task Force) was asked to comment on the strategy of natural herd immunity after emails appeared earlier this year discussing the approach.
The concept was subsequently linked to the perception of the Swedish response to COVID-19, which was mainly about making an offer to the public rather than imposing hard barricades, as many of its European neighbors did. Tegnell denied that herd immunity was Sweden’s goal.
Herd immunity traditionally refers to the use of a vaccine to protect people from an infectious disease so that it cannot spread further. But during the COVID 19 pandemic, it has taken on a new meaning to describe an approach that avoids containment so that coronavirus can spread in a population. Some proponents argue that the most vulnerable in society should be protected during this process. Among the supporters are the signatories of The Great Barrington Declaration.
The idea is controversial for a number of reasons, including the difficulty of identifying and shielding the weak, the question of how long immunity to the coronavirus lasts, and the poorly understood long-term effects of COVID-19 in otherwise healthy people.
When asked whether herd immunity was part of the Swedish strategy, Tegnell said “no”. He told the newspaper: “The pursuit of herd immunity cannot be justified ethically or otherwise,” he told the newspaper.
Tegnell said: “There has not been an infectious disease in history where herd immunity has completely stopped transmission without prior vaccination. And that will not happen with COVID-19”. However, it is useful to know how many people in a population are immune to a disease in order to understand its potential for rapid spread, he said.
“Even if younger people get less severe disease and die less often, it can still happen. Accepting that is not good from a public health perspective,” Tegnell said.
Tegnell is the youngest public health official to warn against using herd immunity as a means of stopping the spread of coronavirus. World Health Organization (WHO) officials have spoken out against this on several occasions, including Monday when Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the UN’s Emergency Health Program, warned that freezer trucks parked outside hospitals to collect the dead were the reality of the free spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier this month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed similar concerns to Tegnell in a press conference: “Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy to respond to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic. It is scientifically and ethically problematic”.
And on Wednesday, Fauci described herd immunity with a vaccine as “an unacceptable way”.
He told the JAMA journal: “Do you know how many deaths you will have before you get there?