More people in Sweden could soon be eligible for Covid vaccine booster: Public Health Agency

Sweden's Public Health Agency is looking into rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine booster shot beyond the most at-risk groups, according to its weekly update.

More people in Sweden could soon be eligible for Covid vaccine booster: Public Health Agency
The Public Health Agency's Sara Byfors reiterated calls for the public to get vaccinated at the agency's weekly coronavirus update. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

The agency’s Sara Byfors said at the Covid-19 briefing that the spread of infection was declining among all age groups in Sweden.

As of September 23rd, there are 283 patients being treated for Covid-19 in hospital, 39 of them in ICUs. A total of 19 of Sweden’s 21 regions are now in ‘normal’ mode, a major improvement from earlier points in the pandemic when most have been in ‘crisis’ or ‘preparedness’ modes due to the burden from the pandemic.

Byfors also said the agency would share more information soon about which groups would be offered a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. The first regions have already begun rolling out booster shots to people in risk groups as of earlier this month.

This is currently a group of around 40,000 people, but the third dose may be rolled out further based on the agency’s assessment.

“The purpose of that vaccination is to prevent serious illness and death. We will provide information in the near future about who, where, when and how it will be done,” said Byfors.

“As with all vaccinations, there must be a benefit with it, the benefit must consider the possible risks that exist. There are signals from the outside world that indicate that you see a fading protection from the vaccination after a certain time, especially in those who are older. It is important to counter this with a third dose, at the same time as you must have information if there are side effects after a third dose compared to after a second dose.”

The update on booster shots comes amid concern over slight rise in the number of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes. The infection rate in these environments appears to be declining but the figures so far are uncertain, according to the update from Iréne Nilsson Carlsson, public health advisor at the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“We are following this closely and do not want [the infection rate in nursing homes] to stand out as it did last autumn. It is both vaccinated and unvaccinated people who die,” Nilsson Carlsson said, urging everyone who meets or works with fragile elderly people to take particular care to reduce the risk of spreading infection and maintain good hygiene standards. 

This week, eight people died at an elderly care home in Överkalix, northern Sweden following an outbreak in which 17 residents in total caught Covid-19. All but one had received two doses of the vaccine against the virus, the municipality reported. Last week, nearly two thirds (65 percent) of those who died after testing positive were care home residents.

Asked by Aftonbladet TV how Sweden could work to prevent the virus entering nursing homes, Byfors said: “It is important to continue working to get as many people vaccinated as possible. More important than a third dose is that everyone takes their first dose. Then also that you follow the basic hygiene routines that you need to prevent all possible diseases.”

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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”