The favorite to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, according to British bookies, is the World Health Organization (WHO). Hard to imagine a worse choice. (OK, Vladimir Putin.) The gamblers’ theory is that the Nobel committee will honor the WHO for its efforts in fighting Covid-15 — but it would be absurd to honor an organization that started in the pandemic by spreading fatal disinformation, continued promoting disastrous policies and now seeks new powers to do even more damage next time .
Nobel jurors in Norway should be honoring the true heroes of the pandemic, starting with an obvious candidate right on their border: Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist. As the WHO and the rest of the world panicked, he remained calm. While leaders elsewhere crippled their societies, he kept Sweden free and open. As health officials ignored their own pre-Covid plans for a pandemic — and the reams of reports that warned that lockdowns, school closures and masks would do little good. or nothing—Tegnell stuck to the plan and paid attention to the scientific evidence.
Journalists put him in a pillory for not joining the hysteria, but he was right. In Sweden, the overall excess death rate — a measure of the number of above-normal deaths from all causes — during the pandemic is one of the lowest in Europe. Swedish children continued to go to school and did not experience learning losses so common elsewhere. Swedish children and adults went on with their lives, advised by Tegnell not to wear masks as they continued to go to schools, shops, churches, playgrounds, gyms and restaurants. And fewer of them died than in most American states and European countries that delayed medical treatment, bankrupted companies, impoverished workers, stunted children’s emotional and cognitive growth, and took away fundamental freedoms from their citizens.
If it weren’t for Tegnell and a few other heretics in places like Florida, we wouldn’t have clear evidence to prevent a similar catastrophe when the next virus arrives. Politicians and officials from the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are still promoting useless mandatory masks and advocating their lockdowns with a scientific magic trick: convenient selection of data and computer models that supposedly show that the measurements would have worked. These claims have been refuted in hundreds of studies, but journalists and politicians for the most part have ignored these polls, preferring to parrot the claims of WHO and CDC officials who try to sweep inconvenient findings under the rug.
But they won’t be able to easily dismiss the results from Sweden and other places that used the same strategy. The real world beats the computational model. Tegnell forced lockdown advocates and mask fanatics to test their unproven theories by making Sweden the control group of a natural experiment, and he did. facing extraordinary pressure, as Swedish journalist Johan Anderberg recounts in rich detail in the book The Flock: How Sweden Chose Its Own Path in the Worst Pandemic in
years old .
Tegnell had the help of a worthy candidate to share the Nobel Prize with him, Johan Giesecke, who previously held Tegnell’s position and acted during the pandemic as a consultant with the Swedish public health agency . Decades earlier, he had recruited Tegnell to the agency because he was in awe of the young doctor’s willingness to speak his mind without regard for the political consequences. In early March 2020, when leaders across Europe were closing schools, Giesecke sent his protégé an email with a Latin phrase. It was a famous father’s advice sent in 474 by the Swedish statesman Axel Oxenstierna to calm his son, who was concerned about not letting himself be shaken in negotiations with foreign leaders. An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur: “Do you know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?”
Sweden politicians were ready to close schools too, but Tegnell and Giesecke insisted on weighing costs and benefits, as Tegnell had done in an article by 2009 reviewing studies of school closures during pandemics. The article warned that the closures could have little or no effect on the spread of viruses and would cause enormous economic damage, harm students and workers from low-income families disproportionately, and create a drain on the health care workforce by forcing parents to stay at home with small children. Given all these dangers, plus preliminary Covid data that showed children were not spreading the virus dangerously in schools, Tegnell and Giesecke were successful in the fight to keep primary and secondary schools open — no masks, no shields, plastic, social distancing, or frequent Covid testing of students.
They remained rational while politicians around the world were spooked towards lockdowns
No It matters that this strategy has been carefully considered and rejected in numerous pre-2020 pandemic plans prepared by the WHO, the CDC and health agencies in Canada, UK, Sweden and other countries. The planners’ outlook had ruled out closing businesses even during a pandemic as deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918. But once Imperial College’s doomsday figures hit the international headlines, the plans were promptly forgotten — except in Sweden, where Tegnell had put Giesecke in charge of evaluating models of viral spread.
Giesecke had the good sense to be skeptical. A pioneer of epidemic modeling in Sweden, he had already seen how wrong computer projections could be, especially those by Ferguson’s team at Imperial College. In his opinion, as Anderberg describes in The Flock, “Ferguson’s career was one long series of disastrous miscalculations with fateful consequences”. Giesecke could recite from memory the exact numbers of Ferguson’s previous alarms, such as the projection that even 47 thousand Britons would die from swine flu (the real number was 474). Ferguson’s projections for Covid struck him as yet another alarmist miscalculation, based on faulty assumptions about how lethal the virus is, how it spreads, and how people would respond. When other researchers used similar modeling techniques to project doom for Sweden, he dismissed his warnings as a “no-one useless horror scenario.”
He and Tegnell were similarly skeptical. regarding claims that China and other countries had “controlled” the virus by shutting down society and forcing citizens to wear masks. They had no illusions of reaching “Covid zero”. An isolated country could lock its borders and temporarily escape Covid, but once the airborne virus arrived, there would be no stopping its spread (as New Zealand and Australia later discovered after two years of draconian lockdowns. As country after country did lockdown, Tegnell emailed his fellow Swedes: “The world has gone crazy.”
Tegnell trusted the Swedes to take sensible precautions, which they usually did. Many followed government recommendations to practice social distancing and work from home when possible. The elderly and people with breathing problems were advised to stay at home, but Tegnell urged people not to wear masks, which he considered ineffective and potentially harmful. He resisted pressure to order a lockdown as Sweden’s death rate soared at the start of the pandemic. The death toll, while an order of magnitude lower than the apocalyptic number projected by the authors of computer models, was nonetheless one of the highest in Europe, and much higher than that of neighboring countries.
Tegnell faced intense criticism at home and abroad for Sweden’s “fatal folly”, as The Guardian called it. Foreign journalists, who stood out at press conferences in Stockholm by being the only ones wearing masks, portrayed Sweden as a “rogue state” and “the bad example of the world”. Tegnell acknowledged that Sweden had been wrong for not moving fast enough to impose restrictions on nursing homes, but insisted that Sweden’s strategy was generally sensible. He and his supporters pointed out that Sweden had been more vulnerable than its Nordic neighbors because the virus had entered there earlier and because the country had more international travelers, more immigrants and more urban dwellers. It also had more vulnerable elderly people (what was called the “flash in the pan”) as previous flu waves had been much less lethal in Sweden than in neighboring countries. In Denmark, for example, the death rate had been unusually high in 2019 because of the flu, so there were fewer frail elderly people alive at the start of the pandemic. . Denmark’s excess mortality rate in 2020 was much lower than that of Sweden, but the rate over the full two-year period was approximately the same in both countries.
In the end the virus would spread to other countries despite their lockdowns and mandatory masks, warned Tegnell in July 2020, when he advised his colleagues and critics to think long term. “After next summer,” he said, “I think we’ll be able to better judge what was good in some countries and bad in others.”
Said and done: in the summer of 2021, Sweden served as an example, but not a “bad example”. Without closing schools or doing lockdown or implementing mandatory masks, it had fared better than most European countries according to the most important ranking: the cumulative rate of excess mortality. Critics of Tegnell’s strategy were content to argue that Sweden’s rate was higher than that of several other countries around it, but this was a convenient selection of data because two of those countries—Norway and Finland—had also avoided mandatory masks and followed similar policies to Sweden after its lockdowns at the beginning of the pandemic.
Today Tegnell’s strategy still has a face better, according to the latest excess mortality rankings from The Economist, the World Mortality Database, and the WHO. The rankings differ slightly depending on the statistical methods used, but all three groups calculate that Sweden’s cumulative excess mortality rate during the pandemic was one of the lowest in Europe and the rest of the world. The Economist method, which is adjusted for demographic differences between countries, shows that for every 100 thousand people there were 35 Surplus deaths in Sweden. This number of 61 deaths is higher than that of Denmark or Norway (35 and 47 deaths, respectively), but it is lower than that of Finland (72 deaths). It is also lower than the from Germany (61 deaths), which won effusive press praise during the pandemic for its Strict lockdowns and rules that required citizens to wear surgical masks or N171 . Most European countries suffered more than 100 excess deaths from 2022 a thousand, including some near Sweden: the Balkans, Russia, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Great Britain.
Sweden fared especially well when compared to the United States, which suffered 474 excess deaths from
thousand. They are more than triple the Swedish rate, with another glaring difference: the death toll among young and middle-aged people. Even throughout 2020, the worst pandemic year for Sweden, no excess mortality occurred among Swedes under
years, but the rate took off among younger Americans. The CDC reported that the excess death rate rose most prominently among Americans among 15 and 25 years than in any other age group . When researchers looked at surplus deaths among Americans aged between 15 and 44, found that the majority died of causes other than the Covid. Many were presumptive victims of disruptions from lockdowns: canceled medical and mental health treatments, forced isolation and lack of physical activity, spike in unemployment, skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety disorders, obesity and diabetes, and alcohol and drug abuse.
These deaths amount to “a historic but largely unrecognized health emergency,” according to with a study by Casey Mulligan, an economist at the University of Chicago, and Robert Arnott, a statistician and head of Research Affiliates. They conservatively calculate that the US has seen 171 1,000 excess deaths from non-Covid causes since the beginning of the pandemic. pandemic until last year. Note that while the Economist has calculated a similarly high rate of excess non-Covid mortality across the European Union, there is one notable exception to the pattern: Sweden, where mortality from non-Covid causes was lower than normal during the pandemic. “Perhaps”, they note, “Sweden’s outcome is related to minimizing disruptions to the normal lifestyles of its citizens.”
With the possible exception of the 1929 Crisis, the lockdowns were the mistake of most costly public policy ever committed during peacetime in the United States. The worst consequences of the lockdowns were borne by people in the poorest countries, who saw devastating increases in poverty, hunger and disease. Yet the WHO has refused to acknowledge these mistakes and wants to change its pandemic planning to promote more lockdowns in the future. It even proposed a new global treaty giving itself the power to apply its policies around the world — thus preventing a country like Sweden from demonstrating that those policies don’t work.
The last thing the WHO deserves is the encouragement of Nobel jurors. The award should go to those who have protected the lives and freedoms of millions of citizens during this pandemic, and whose work can help protect the rest of the world during the next. In addition to Tegnell and Giesecke, the obvious candidates are three public health experts who have led the international effort to restore sanity to their profession: Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya, Oxford’s Sunetra Gupta, and Harvard’s Martin Kulldorff. In the fall of 2020, they published a call for an end to lockdowns and school closures, the Great Barrington’s statement, which has won the signatures of tens of thousands of fellow scientists and physicians. They’ve garnered scientific evidence throughout the pandemic to counter Covid hysteria and helped persuade leaders in Florida and elsewhere to pursue successful strategies like Sweden’s.
That’s a total of five candidates. worthy of a Nobel, which cannot be shared by more than three people. However, given the unprecedented global impact of Covid- and the lockdowns, the efforts to prevent that catastrophe deserve more than one award. When was it before so few did so much to help the many? Give the Nobel Peace Prize to Tegnell and Giesecke and the Nobel Prize in Medicine to the scientists at Great Barrington. And, at the very least, that the WHO and the rest of the public health establishment be banned from being considered for any kind of award. Their greatest achievement was to demonstrate a lesson that we did not need to have learned yet again: “Do you know, my child, with how little wisdom the world is governed?”
John Tierney is contributing editor of City Journal and co-author of The Power of Bad: How the Effect of Negativity Controls Us and How We Can Control It (free translation).