Anna’s Story - Stockholm, Sweden
Updated: Apr 17, 2021
This Q&A was conducted in early April 2021.
Tell us about your decision-making journey as it relates to your own thought process around the COVID vaccine.
At first I expected vaccines to be about as effective as flu shots (which are about 60 percent effective). When the first efficacy study results started coming out for the COVID vaccines, I was shocked that the vaccines were so good. I didn't expect the vaccines to be as powerful as they've turned out to be. I was eager to have my parents vaccinated and as many people in risk groups as possible, since I had been watching the pandemic unfold in the numbers of people sick, in the ICU and dying.
For my own part, I figured I'd wait until the vaccines had been used for a few months to make sure there weren't any strange side effects. As they've been rolled out and more and more people I knew had been vaccinated (and millions of people worldwide), I decided to definitely get the vaccine when offered. Since I'm not in a risk group and probably wouldn't get severely ill from COVID-19, I am OK to wait though and let others go first. I probably won't get the first dose until May or June, based on the roll out in Sweden.
What's it been like observing what is happening with the vaccine rollout in the US as compared to Sweden?
There have been big differences in supply between Sweden and the US, and the US was able to accelerate vaccinations earlier than most of Europe, it seems. It's nice to see something working in the US after the high toll of COVID over the past year.
Are there cultural differences that you've noted in how people there think of the vaccine versus your friends/community in the US?
A cultural difference is that the pandemic itself has been so politicized in the US, so that people with certain political beliefs are more likely think the pandemic is a hoax and, therefore, not want to get vaccinated. This hasn't occurred in Sweden, and so vaccine acceptance is fairly high across the political spectrum. The history of unethical medical experiments toward the Black community in the US is also something that is an important difference. Sweden has more clearly articulated health equity goals and of course not quite the same history, although there are indigenous and minority groups here too, with most likely lower vaccine acceptance.
It's also a fact that Swedish policy makers have experience from a mass vaccination campaign during the past pandemic (2009, H1N1), during which approximately 60 percent of Swedes were vaccinated during a short period of time. Unfortunately, those vaccinations resulted in several hundred cases of narcolepsy in vaccinated children and young adults. This medical tragedy has had far-reaching effects in Swedish society and has influenced the communication campaign toward more transparency and with a focus on the voluntary nature of vaccination.
Anna S. is a public health expert in Sweden who specializes in influenza. She has spent time living in both the United States and Sweden.