Emails from Sweden's Fauci Reveal Discussions About Now-Failed Plan to Reach 'Herd Immunity'

Newly-released emails show Sweden's top epidemiologist brainstorming ways "herd immunity" could be achieved to limit the spread of COVID-19, an approach that was this week branded a failure by one academic study.

While governments around the world have used a variety of tactics in their attempts to stop the novel coronavirus from ravaging populations, Sweden's state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, favored a "common sense" strategy over forced lockdowns.

Swedish citizens were asked to voluntarily comply with social distancing and work from home rules, a tactic that reportedly led to higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death than some of its neighbors—including Norway, Denmark and Finland.

While the strategy has been much-discussed, emails now show how Tegnell, who is the Swedish equivalent to Dr. Anthony Fauci, initially attempted to formulate his approach to "herd immunity," which is when up to 70 percent of the population have either been given a vaccination or been infected, impacting the rate of the virus spread.

The email correspondence shows the discussions between Tegnell and his predecessor Johan Giesecke, some dating back to March this year, The Local.se reported.

They were released following multiple Freedom of Information (FoI) requests filed by a Swedish freelance journalist called Emanuel Karlsten.

"I believe [that] the virus is going to sweep like a storm over Sweden and infect basically everyone in one or two months," Giesecke, who was the state epidemiologist in Sweden between 1995 and 2005, forecasted earlier this year, the messages show.

"I believe that thousands are already infected in Sweden... it will all come to an end when so many have been infected and become therefore immune that the virus has nowhere else to go (so-called herd immunity)," read the email, dated March 13.

In another email from the same month, Tegnell appeared to be brainstorming ways to show the public how herd immunity could work, The Local.se reported.

"Surely it has to be the case that as immunity rises in the population, the rate of spread of the disease decreases," Tegnell wrote in an email to Giesecke on March 19 this year. "So it's obviously not the case that when you reach herd immunity everything stops all of a sudden. Is there a way of modelling how the spread comes to a halt?"

Four months on, the spread has not come to a halt, but does appear to have slowed. There have been over 83,000 COVID-19 cases in Sweden, and over 5,700 deaths.

When it emerged, COVID-19 was unknown, meaning no-one had immunity. It remains unclear if those who contract it are protected from a second infection.

As noted by the BBC, in a country of about 10 million people, statistics indicate that the country has had one of the highest death rates (compared to population size) in Europe, despite bans on gatherings and shifting to table service in bars and restaurants.

In June, Tegnell conceded that too many citizens had died. "If we were to encounter the same disease again... I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done," he said, the BBC reported.

Not only did COVID-19 not come to a halt, but herd immunity is still "nowhere in sight," according to a Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine study published Tuesday.

"It is clear that not only are the rates of viral infection, hospitalization and mortality (per million population) much higher than those seen in neighboring Scandinavian countries, but also that the time-course of the epidemic in Sweden is different, with continued persistence of higher infection and mortality (as one is inexorably linked to the other) well beyond the few critical weeks period seen in Denmark, Finland and Norway, whose rapid lock-down measures seem to have been initially more successful in curtailing the infection surge," the authors wrote in their academic analysis.

In terms of COVID-19-related deaths, Norway, Denmark and Finland are each believed to be in the hundreds not thousands, current statistics indicate.

While some countries are now moving to loosen lockdown restrictions and approaching some degree of normality, the COVID-19 health crisis is still far from over. The U.S. is the worst-affected nation, with the coronavirus claiming more than 166,000 lives.

Anders Tegnell
State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the Swedish Public Health Agency attends a press conference to update on the COVID-19 coronavirus situation on July 28, 2020 in Solna near Stockholm, Sweden. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty