As other countries around the world order lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19, Sweden is charting a different course: It’s keeping schools and businesses open, with the idea that resistance to a disease comes when enough people in the general population have survived it -- aka "herd immunity.”
No other country has attempted a similar approach to COVID-19 because of the risk it poses to healthcare systems. But Sweden wants to keep its economy functioning while slowing the rate at which people get sick.
"I think all countries, all epidemiologists you talk to, will agree that herd immunity is the one thing that would eventually slow down the spread of this virus. Nothing else will slow it down in the long term," Dr. Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist at Sweden's public health agency and the architect of its coronavirus plans, told VICE News. "Either you reach it by people getting infected and getting well again, or you reach it by vaccinating people. And the vaccine is fairly far off."
Sweden’s scientific community is at odds with Tegnell’s strategy. More than 2,000 doctors, professors, and researchers signed a petition urging the government to introduce more aggressive measures against COVID-19.
According to Dr. Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér, professor of immunology at the Karolinska Institute, there is no evidence to support taking such a dangerous approach during a pandemic.
"The problem with herd immunity is that we don't have any data on this yet," Söderberg-Nauclér said. "The data that we at least have access to and the developments that we've seen in different countries just say that, no, this is not a path that is safe to take."
Indeed, the death rate from COVID-19 in Sweden is currently accelerating faster than its neighboring countries. The government has announced no plans to change its strategy.