Iceland Bets on Herd Immunity

Final Friday, Iceland lifted all restrictions towards Covid—no quarantining for the contaminated, no testing on the border, and no measurement limits on gatherings. The identical day, the nation broke its report for the variety of single-day circumstances, with over 4,300 reported. 

On that day, too, Landspítali, the nation’s largest hospital, declared it was at emergency ranges, with 55 sufferers admitted with Covid-19 and three of them within the ICU. Hildur Helgadóttir, venture supervisor of the hospital’s epidemic committee, instructed the nationwide broadcaster RUV that the federal government had not consulted with the hospital earlier than dropping restrictions, and that they have been too abrupt. The epidemic might be anticipated to be extreme within the coming weeks, she mentioned. 

However what shocked the nation much more was the phrases of Iceland’s chief epidemiologist, Thorolfur Gudnason. In his memo to the Minister of Well being laying out the rationale for dropping restrictions, Gudnason mentioned the principle approach out of the epidemic is pure herd immunity, or when sufficient individuals are proof against the virus that its transmission ceases. As a way to obtain this, Gudnason wrote, “as many individuals as doable have to be contaminated with the virus,” as vaccines alone should not sufficient. (Nearly 80 p.c of Iceland’s inhabitants has been totally vaccinated.) In keeping with Kristjana Ásbjörnsdóttir, an epidemiologist on the College of Iceland, his argument is that if the healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed, and if the Omicron wave certainly ends in a number of weeks as he’s projecting, then it might be price a short-term spike in infections to “get this over with,” she says. 

When requested for the rationale behind the dropping of restrictions, a spokesperson for the Directorate of Well being, for which Gudnason works, responded that, though no person is aware of at which stage herd immunity will likely be obtained, “it’s fairly evident to us that the one approach to get out of this pandemic is by acquiring herd immunity by way of pure infections.” On condition that Iceland has excessive vaccine protection, and that the restrictions required to regulate the unfold of Omicron would trigger “appreciable and unexpected penalties on the society as an entire,” the spokesperson wrote that their workplace believes that “reaching herd immunity by way of the pure technique of an infection in a extremely vaccinated inhabitants is justifiable.” 

Gudnason’s strategy deeply considerations Ásbjörnsdóttir. “Sadly, after doing a very wonderful job for almost all of the pandemic, we’re now falling into the entice of [only] eager about the typical particular person,” she says—and forgetting concerning the clinically susceptible and immunocompromised. “We have to have deeper conversations about what minor modifications we will dwell with long term that can enable most issues to return to pre-pandemic operations with out endangering our most susceptible.”

Certainly, Gudnason’s assertion was met with worry and anger from some members of Iceland’s clinically susceptible neighborhood. Some immunocompromised folks don’t mount a great—if any—response to vaccines. For them, Omicron won’t simply trigger a sniffly nostril; it presents an actual hazard. Dropping masks mandates and vaccination necessities can imply that the world exterior their houses will develop into a no-go zone. “The entire lifting of all measures, together with masks and testing, appears like an unstated demise sentence,” says Hans Jónsson, who’s disabled and lives in Ólafsfjörður, a city in northeast Iceland. “I really feel like they’ve determined that I merely do not need to dwell.”

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