swine flu

Looking Back at the Pandemic

In 2009 Sweden carried out a unique mass vaccination program in order to protect the population from Swine Flu, or H1N1.

In the end, only a handful of people died, and wordwide swine flu never turned into the kind of deadly virus that had killed millions in 1918.

So were we here in Sweden right to be worried, and right to take the very expensive step of trying to vaccinate everyone?

Professor Angus Nicoll is the influensa coordinator at the European Centre for Disease control. This is a European institution that happens to be based in Stockholm.

"With flu there was almost the danger that people thought they knew too much about it. People felt that it was likely to be like the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which was much more severe. Also felt they know how it should be controlled, when really all pandemics are different."

It is the local authorities in Sweden that are in charge of health care - and which thus had to roll out the vaccine. Göran Stiernstedt is head of the health care division at the umbrella association for Sweden's local authorities.

"We knew from the start that we were going to be involved, but I don't think we realised to what extent, and that we had to be involved so much."

Was there too much hype about the dangers? Professor Nicoll replies.

"Right from the start, if you look back to our risk assessments, you'll see that we were saying that: this isn't so bad. It's going to be a strain, but it's not so bad. It's not those kind of apocalyptic things that, certainly, countries had to be prepared for."

What lessons can we learn? "Was it really worth it?" asks Göran Stiernsterdt, "should we really have these mass vaccination campaigns for the next influensa, or should we have vaccinated only parts of the population. That's a question which remains to be answered."