Sweden speeds up third vaccine dose for over-65s

The Swedish Public Health Agency has announced new recommendations that third vaccine doses for over-65s may now be given after five months – one month earlier than previously recommended.

vaccine being administered
Over-65s no longer need to wait as long between vaccine doses. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The reason for this change is to enable more over-65s to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

The Public Health Agency expects that infection levels will increase over the next few months, leading the agency to shorten the recommended interval between doses so that as many as possible will have increased protection against Covid-19 in the upcoming winter season.

“We can see an increased spread of infection in many countries in Europe, and following our scenarios, we can count on there being an increase in Sweden as well. With a shorter interval between dose two and the extra dose, more will be able to be vaccinated as soon as possible, and have good protection against the disease before the Christmas holiday,” said Anders Tegnell, state epidemiologist, in a statement.

Currently, extra doses of the vaccine are recommended for all over-65s, as well as some people working in elderly care and at-home care.

Sweden expects to roll out booster shots to everyone eventually, but it will happen in steps in winter and spring.

The new recommended shorter interval between doses only applies to over-65s – all others offered a third dose must still wait six months before they can be vaccinated.

It is ultimately Sweden’s 21 regions that decide when to open the third round of vaccinations to their residents. To find out how to get your third dose in your region, go to the healthcare website and select your region under välj region in the menu bar.

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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.