No evidence that the low rate of COVID-19 cases in Sweden is due to herd immunity; vaccines do not lead to new variants of SARS-CoV-2


CLAIM

‘Sweden is erasing’ vaccines ‘lie as a way to end pandemic’ Mass vaccination creates vaccine-mediated viral improvement

DETAILS

Factually inaccurate: Contrary to the article, Sweden experienced a peak in COVID-19 cases in July 2021 due to the Delta variant, which has since become the predominant variant in the country.
Inadequate support: There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines lead to the generation of variants. In fact, the Delta variant was first detected months before vaccines were authorized. The article also repeatedly claimed that Sweden had obtained collective immunity, but provided no evidence for this claim.

KEY TO TAKE AWAY

Although Sweden started its COVID-19 vaccination campaign later than other countries, in November 2021, its vaccination coverage is similar to that of the United States and the United Kingdom. There is no evidence that the low number of COVID-19 cases in Sweden is due to herd immunity rather than vaccination, which scientific evidence has shown reduces the transmission of COVID-19. There is no evidence to support the claim that COVID-19 vaccines lead to more dangerous variants. Evidence from clinical trials and monitoring vaccination campaigns shows that COVID-19 vaccines are effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

FULL CLAIM: “The fact that Sweden never had a Delta wave shows that natural immunity alone would have ended this pandemic”; “Vaccinologists like Geert Vanden Bossche and Luc Montagnier were right when they predicted that mass vaccination with a suboptimal, non-sterilizing vaccine in the midst of a pandemic would create vaccine-mediated viral improvement.”

REVIEW

Various countries have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in 2021 despite ongoing vaccination campaigns. Some outlets took advantage of the Delta wave to question the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. One example is this article by Daniel Horowitz, published in The Blaze on November 16, 2021. Horowitz previously wrote articles that contained inaccurate and misleading information about face masks and COVID-19 vaccines, to which Health Feedback responded here and here.

The article went viral shortly after publication. As of November 23, 2021, he had received more than 7,000 engagements on Facebook according to the social media analysis tool CrowdTangle. However, as we will explain below, the claims made in the article are inaccurate and unfounded.

The article drew attention to the low number of COVID-19 cases in Sweden in November 2021 compared to the number of cases in other countries and claimed that this event “erases the lie of ‘vaccines’ as a means to end the pandemic “. The article also linked vaccines to the increase in new cases of COVID-19, saying this was evidence that vaccines cause ‘vaccine-mediated viral improvement’, as scientists have claimed. such as Geert Vanden Bossche and Luc Montagnier.

However, the decrease in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations in Sweden after July 2021 coincides in time with the increase in the proportion of people vaccinated in the country, contradicting this claim (Figure 1).

Figure 1. COVID-19 vaccine doses administered, new cases of COVID-19, intensive care patients and new deaths from COVID-19 in Sweden, compared to the country’s population. Data retrieved on November 26, 2021. Source: Our world in data.

Claim 1 (Inaccurate): “Sweden has never had a Delta wave”

The article stated that “the Swedes have never experienced a single Delta wave,” but Sweden has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in which Delta was the dominant variant in July 2021. Delta has since become the predominant variant. of SARS-CoV-2 in the countryside.

Although the number of new cases since July 2021 was lower than that recorded in the previous two waves, it was similar to that recorded by Sweden during the first wave of COVID-19, between March and August 2020. In addition, the number of cases due to Delta in the country is on the rise at the time of writing (Figure 2).

Overall, since Delta became the predominant variant in Sweden in July 2021, there have been more than 105,000 new cases and around 500 deaths from COVID-19. This represents around 9% of COVID-19 cases in Sweden (out of a total of 1.2 million cases since the start of the pandemic, as of November 26, 2021) and around 3% of all COVID-19 deaths in the countries (out of a total of 15,145 deaths).

Figure 2. New daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 per million people in Sweden, 7-day moving average. Data retrieved on November 26, 2021. Source: Our world in data.

Statement 2 (incorrect): COVID-19 vaccines lead to ‘vaccine-mediated viral improvement’

The article claimed that vaccination against COVID-19 made SARS-CoV-2 more dangerous due to a phenomenon called “vaccine-mediated viral enhancement.” This may be a reference to an earlier claim that COVID-19 vaccines cause antibody dependent improvement (ADE). This claim has been refuted by Health Feedback here. Additionally, there is ample evidence that COVID-19 vaccines provide protection against disease, preventing hospitalizations and death. This is inconsistent with the claim that COVID-19 vaccines cause EMA.

Another way to interpret the term “vaccine-mediated viral enhancement”, which is not a known scientific concept, is based on the article’s claim that vaccination “teaches the virus to become stronger and more sustainable ”, referring to the emergence of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2. However, this variant of the virus was first isolated in India in October 2020, months before the start of the vaccination campaign, so there is no way the vaccination caused the Delta variant.

The article also claimed that Geert Vanden Bossche and Luc Montagnier were correct in their predictions about COVID-19 vaccines. Vanden Bossche issued an open letter claiming that COVID-19 vaccination campaigns would accelerate the emergence of dangerous variants of the virus. But his assumptions were not based on evidence or supported by past experience with other vaccination campaigns, such as those against measles and mumps, as this review of Health Feedback claims and this Bureau article explain. of Science and Society at McGill University.

As for Montagnier, he said in a video that “the new variants are a production and result from the vaccination” and “the vaccination curve is followed by the death curve”, with reference to the ADE. These claims have been addressed in several fact checks, such as PolitiFact and Reuters.

Claim 3 (not supported): Sweden’s low number of COVID-19 cases is due to herd immunity to previous infections

The central argument of the article is based on its claim that the lower number of COVID-19 cases in Sweden compared to other countries is explained by the collective immunity of the population to COVID-19, stating that “The fact that Sweden has never had a Delta wave shows that natural immunity alone would have ended this pandemic.”

The article claimed that since Sweden had already achieved herd immunity by infection before the vaccines, the vaccination did not explain the low number of COVID-19 cases in the country. The article went so far as to claim that the incidence rate of COVID-19 would still be the same even if the Swedish population had not been vaccinated.

Aside from the inaccurate claim that “never had a Delta wave” as previously explained, Horowitz provided no evidence to support his hypothesis that Sweden has already achieved herd-induced herd immunity. infection, or “natural immunity” as the article called it.

The Blaze article indicated that Sweden started its COVID-19 vaccination campaign later than other countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom. However, the current immunization coverage in the country is similar to that of these countries. According to data collected by Reuters, Sweden has administered more than 15,250,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of November 23, 2021.

According to Our World in Data, 69% of the Swedish population has already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This figure is similar to those of countries like the United Kingdom (68%) or Germany (68%) and higher than that of the United States (58%) or the average of European countries (57%) (figure 3).

Figure 3. Proportion of people fully immunized in different countries. Data retrieved on November 26, 2021. Source: Our world in data.

Current data suggests vaccines reduce transmission of COVID-19[1], even for the Delta variant[2]. Therefore, since vaccines reduce the transmission of COVID-19, we cannot rule out their contribution to the currently low number of cases in Sweden, as Horowitz did.

Claim 4 (misleading): A study carried out in Sweden “found no effectiveness of the Pfizer shot after 6-7 months”

The article cites a study in Sweden examining the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines over nine months[3]. The article claimed that “[the study] found that after 6 to 7 months, “no efficacy could be detected” from the Pfizer injection “and that” for some elderly people the injections are up to -77% effective “after seven months.

However, this is an incomplete and misleading interpretation of the study results. While the study indicated that “from day 211 onwards, no efficacy could be detected”, this conclusion concerned the efficacy of the vaccine against symptomatic infection, as shown by data from the Supplementary Table 4 of the study). The study found that the vaccine’s effectiveness against COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths remained high even nine months after vaccination, with more than 50% effectiveness against serious illnesses for all groups in the study (as shown in its Supplementary Table 5), and the authors concluded that their conclusions “[strengthen] the evidence-based rationale for administering a third booster dose ”.

In conclusion, the article did not provide evidence that infection-induced immunity is the cause of the low number of cases in Sweden. Since vaccination coverage in the country is almost 70%, which is similar to other countries like UK or Germany, vaccines cannot be ruled out as the cause of the reduction in cases. of COVID-19 in Sweden. There is also no evidence to support the article’s claim that vaccines produce more dangerous variants.

THE REFERENCES

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