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Herd immunity? Only 5 percent infected with Covid-19 in hard-hit Spain

Although Spain is one of the countries in the world most affected by Covid-19 with more than 27 000 fatalities and almost 300 000 cases, the number of Spaniards with antibodies seems to be very low. An ongoing national survey shows that only 5 percent of the population has developed antibodies and can thus be believed to have been infected.

Published: May 28, 2020, 9:28 am

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    Stockholm

    “This is not good news for Sweden,” epidemiologist Tove Fall, epidemiologist at Uppsala University, told Aktuellt on May 14.

    In Sweden, the strategy is to create “herd immunity”, where a majority of the population develop antibodies and are therefore no longer susceptible to the infection. However, a study among inhabitants of Stockholm also showed a low count in antibodies of around 7,5 percent.

    The Swedish WHO physician Johan Giesecke believes that Covid-19 is a “tsunami” that is spreading widely around the world. Already in April he said that he believes that half of Sweden’s population has already been infected.

    On April 16, Swedish state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said that the Public Health Agency’s models indicate that herd immunity will be reached in Stockholm as early as May. According to the latest surveys, this seems to completely off the mark.

    Even at the WHO, people are expressing concern. After Germany started searching for antibodies in April, Mark Perkins, a diagnostic expert at WHO, told Science magazine: “They had hoped for 45 or 60 percent. This would indicate that there is widespread dissemination in the hidden and create immunity in society. Unfortunately, this does not look right.”

    The researchers had selected the city of Heinsberg, which was particularly hard hit, but found only antibodies in 14 percent of 500 randomly selected people.

    But there may also be another reason why antibodies are not found to the extent they had been hoping for.  Studies reported by the Public Health Authority, among others, indicate that people with mild symptoms also have fewer antibodies.

    On April 7, the South China Morning Post wrote that a study conducted by the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center showed that of 175 patients, about one-third, had developed unexpectedly low levels of antibodies and in ten cases none at all.

    However, trials with monkeys have been encouraging. A Chinese study, published on May 6, shows that infected macaques do not contract the virus a second time if they are exposed to the infection after they have recovered.

    Antibodies have also been found in people who have not been infected with Covid-19. Among other things, a research group at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California found antibodies in every other blood sample taken in 2015-2018, well before Covid-19 began to spread. They interpret it as similarities to common colds, causing some people’s immune systems to respond to the new Covid-19.

    The researchers also note that the presence of antibodies is not the same as being immune or how long such immunity might be. It takes one to three weeks to develop antibodies from the time of infection.

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