Coronavirus

Reports Swedish students deliberately becoming infected with COVID-19 for immunity

A file photo of commuters waiting to catch trains during rush hour at the Stockholm Central metro station, Sweden. Source: AAP

Police in Sweden’s have received reports of students trying to become infected with the coronavirus as the country’s infection rate soars.

Östersund police in Sweden received reports that high school students are making attempts to deliberately become infected with COVID-19.

The report said that students were seeking people infected with COVID-19, so they could become infected themselves and develop antibodies to protect them from further infection. While infected, they would spread the disease so other students could become immune.

Maria Könberg from Östersund police said that the reports said that the students were attempting to antibodies so they were able to party during the 'studenten' in Spring, which is the equivalent of schoolies. 

In Sweden, it is an offense to deliberately spread COVID-19 but not to deliberately become infected.

Police closed the investigation after conducting interviews due to lack of evidence.

Coronavirus cases in Sweden, which has become notorious for not implementing legally enforced restrictions -- until recently -- or lockdowns, have been increasing exponentially. Sweden has had more than 243,000 cases with more than 6,000 deaths.

Sweden has exceeded the US in the number of coronavirus cases per million: recording 492 compared to 490 in the US. Australia is sitting at around 0.4 cases per million.

University of NSW Professor Mary-Louise McLaws -- who is an epidemiologist and advisor to World Health Organization Infection Control and Prevention Guidance Development Group for COVID-19 -- said that deliberately contracting the disease is grossly misguided.

“It’s very sad that any community is not being educated on the risks of COVID-19 and what we call ‘long-COVID’ or ‘long-haulers’.”

These terms refer to those who have contracted COVID-19 and are experiencing long-term symptoms after they stop being infectious, such as fatigue and respiratory problems, explains Professor McLaws -- many who are young.

So far, there is no scientific way to determine who will suffer from long term symptoms.

“It’s not always related to the severity of illness and the predictability of who is going to be a ‘long-hauler’ has not been sorted,” Professor McLaws said.

“One researcher suggested it might be genetic.”

Professor McLaws is concerned that anyone young in Sweden is under the impression that getting COVID-19 is a means to get antibodies and immunity from further infection.

“Someone needs to educate them and tell them we are concerned about them because they are our future, they are our future leaders.”

There are very few studies that analyse COVID-19 antibodies, with the most recent peer-reviewed publication showing that antibodies are only lasting in the body for 148 days.

“This is just one study but it was enough to worry the scientific community,” she said.

“So these poor young people are catching it and thinking they are going to be immune, but not for very long.”

People assume, incorrectly, that once you get an infection you are automatically immune.

“A natural infection does not make you immune for life.”

Professor McLaws, who has been working with the WHO on the global coronavirus response, said she was surprised from the start about the country's strategy.

Sweden had herd immunity at the core of their coronavirus response, which Professor McLaws explains, is flawed.

She explains the understanding of herd immunity is based on the herd immunity required for successfully vaccinating a population, where the majority of the population can safely receive antibodies to protect the rest of the population from infection. 

“I was surprised that their epidemiologist was failing to understand the true application of herd immunity and placing his population at risk,” she said.

“From an outbreak manager perspective, [Sweden] were irresponsible as global citizens and irresponsible to their own citizens.”

The Swedish government has added more restrictions in the past week, including on the size of outdoor gatherings from 300 to eight people.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said Swedes were not sticking to coronavirus recommendations but stood by their no-lockdown approach.

"We don't believe in a total lockdown," Mr Löfven said.

"We believe that the measures we have taken … are appropriate."