Second Waves and Herd Immunity: What Each Side is Saying

Ty Aravazhi Contributor
Second Waves and Herd Immunity: What Each Side is Saying
Read Time: approx. 2:18

Cover: While most countries have adapted to the pandemic by instituting stay-at-home orders, Sweden has taken a different approach, part of which revolves around the idea of “herd immunity.”

Second Waves and Herd Immunity: While most countries have adapted to the pandemic by instituting stay-at-home orders, Sweden has taken a different approach. Primary schools, restaurants, and bars have remained open with the expectation that individuals are maintaining an adequate, safe distance from one another. Those who can work from home are also encouraged to do so. Sweden’s more relaxed measures incorporate the concept of “herd immunity”; the idea that as more people gain immunity to the virus, the fewer opportunities there are for it to spread. This week, Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency said the country may be starting to see the impact of this approach. Accordingly, the concept has sparked debate over the effectiveness of large scale lock down measures that have crippled economies across the world.

Those in support of the herd immunity model claim that COVID-19 cannot be contained in the long-run, so herd immunity is an inevitability. They acknowledge that lockdown measures may reduce the spread of the virus in the short-term; however, the reality is that the virus will resurge in transmission once those lockdown restrictions are removed. The argument is that forcing everyone indoors is only delaying the inevitable, and society would need to be shut down until an effective treatment or vaccine is developed. The alternative would be to work to minimize deaths until herd immunity is achieved through natural infection. Swedish citizens have also justified their relaxed approach by pointing to their infection and death rates not being much different from other countries who have instituted stronger restrictions.

Critics of the herd immunity approach have conversely challenged that view, arguing that Sweden’s death rates suggest the relaxed measures are not as effective as they would have you believe. An initial glance would make Sweden’s 2300 deaths appear to be small. A broader examination of deaths per 1 million people reveals that “Sweden is faring worse than other Scandinavian nations and even worse that the United States, which has the highest number of confirmed total cases in the world.”

Flag This: The reason Sweden’s approach and the topic of herd immunity is noteworthy is because it speaks to the concerns of both health officials and business leaders. Health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci have warned of a second wave in the Fall, which would imply a need to maintain stay-at-home measures in the United States. At the same time, business leaders and Wall Street are grappling with the fact that today’s jobless claims report could show that 30 million people are out of work. How do government officials keep their citizens healthy, physically and financially? That’s the tightrope that leaders around the world are walking every step of the way and while Sweden’s approach appears to be a daring maneuver on a thin line, it may pay off handsomely when all is said and done. We will only know years down the road, but its worth the thought-experiment as “quarantine fatigue” is setting in, people are losing their jobs, and states are slowly reopening in the US.