“Vaccinated” Sweden: A response to a brainwashed critic

Eyal Shahar
4 min readJul 16, 2023

In normal times, I would not have bothered to respond to a half-baked critique of my medium article (reposted on The Daily Sceptic and Brownstone) about imaginary averted deaths in Israel by the Pfizer vaccine. But these are times of a new normal, and there is merit in showing the thinking of a brainwashed critic.

When I saw on my Excel file that the Covid mortality ratio — Sweden versus Israel — during the winter wave of 2020–2021 was identical to the usual ratio, and there is no statistical hint of averted Covid deaths in Israel, I was astonished. I expected to see some indication that vaccinated Israel fared better than unvaccinated Sweden.

One critic, who will remain anonymous, was not astonished. He was sure that Covid vaccines were highly effective, and falsehood must be hidden somewhere in my article. Therefore, mud must be thrown and doubts must be somehow raised.

In a sketchy response (not an article) he wrote that it was misleading to call Sweden “unvaccinated” in that period, because the people at high risk were vaccinated fast as of February 2021, especially the oldest age groups (over age 80) and nursing home residents. We’ll review the timeline and informative numbers shortly, but what does pace have to do with labeling a country as “vaccinated”? If the percentage of vaccinated elderly increased from 0% to 15% in one month, the pace is fast but the elderly population is not significantly vaccinated yet. By the way, I also used the phrase “largely unvaccinated”, twice…

Figure 1 shows the Covid mortality wave in Sweden in the winter of 2020–2021, which I discussed in my article. Of 7,588 reported Covid deaths, 6,195 (over 80%) occurred by January 31, before any possible, meaningful effect of the vaccination campaign: Of course, no death could have been averted before the first person was vaccinated, around December 27, but no significant number of deaths could have been averted in January, either.

Figure 1

Vaccination does not change country-level mortality statistics instantaneously. We cannot expect that vaccination of 10%, or even 20%, of the most vulnerable Swedish population by the third week of January would have averted any significant number of deaths before February.

Averted deaths of the winter wave in Sweden, if any, should have been restricted to two months — February and March — when the actual number of reported Covid deaths was about 1,400. In early February, the mortality wave was already halfway down from the peak, and the decline continued at the same slope, then tapering off (Figure 1). The graph does not show any drastic deviation from the natural pattern of a declining wave.

Does anyone want to claim that 10,000 deaths have been averted in Sweden by Covid vaccines in the terminal part of the wave, 5,000 deaths have been averted in Israel between January and March 2021, and therefore we observe the usual mortality ratio (twice as many deaths in Sweden) in a five-month period that contains the full waves?

That long proposition is not even science fiction. It’s absurd. Vaccination in Sweden could not have averted twice as many deaths as vaccination in Israel was (falsely) claimed to have averted.

My critic had three more claims about Sweden:

  • We should not assume that Sweden should have had excess mortality in this period because of its low vaccination rate.

I am still trying to understand the convoluted sentence. Does he mean that the Covid wave should not have caused excess mortality?

  • According to his models, Sweden had no excess mortality between January and March 2021.

First, what is the logic of truncating the death toll of a wave, and how does it help us to compare two non-synchronized waves (earlier wave in Sweden)? Second, we don’t need models to see the excess mortality in Sweden in January 2021. We don’t even need to compute rates. There were 10,180 deaths in that month as compared with no more than 8,800 in every January in the past decade except January 2017 (9,282 deaths).

  • The percentage of deaths in nursing homes due to Covid dramatically declined between mid-February and March 2021 as compared with November 2020 through mid-February 2021.

Undoubtedly, he is implying that vaccinating residents of nursing home explains the data.

This is, perhaps, the best example of a brainwashed critic who is convinced that any reduction in mortality is attributable to human intervention. Of course the percentage declined! It was the end of the wave in Sweden (Figure 1, mortality) and in nursing homes as well (Figure 2, cases). All Covid waves naturally end.

Figure 2

Source: Public Health Agency of Sweden

I am sure that some of my opponents, perhaps those who are not versed in research, wonder if I might be brainwashed, too, unable to scrutinize data objectively. For those skeptics, I have two relevant exhibits. Although I hold strong, unequivocally negative opinions on Covid vaccines, I estimated their short-term fatality rate and concluded that it is unacceptable, but not as high as some have claimed. In a follow-up article, I used data from Sweden to refute unrealistic estimates.

My critic was very much convinced that vaccinating the frail and elderly population had a dramatic effect on Covid mortality. Will he will re-evaluate his conviction after reading another analysis?

I doubt it.

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Eyal Shahar

Professor Emeritus of Public Health (University of Arizona); MD (Tel-Aviv University, Israel); MPH, Epidemiology (University of Minnesota)