STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden will ramp up efforts to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 in the face of a flagging inoculation drive, with authorities warning on Wednesday that the unvaccinated might have to live with restrictions longer.
More than 80% of Swedes aged 16 and above – the group eligible for the vaccines – have had one shot and almost 75% are fully vaccinated. However, some neighbourhoods, primarily low-income areas and ones with higher foreign-born population, lag the rest of the country.
Sweden’s vaccine uptake is on par with much of western Europe but substantially lower than that of stand-outs such as neighbouring Denmark.
“More efforts are needed to make vaccine coverage even higher and more equal,” Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren told a news conference.
“We don’t want blank spots on the vaccination map in Sweden. Everyone has the right to the protection that we know that the vaccine offers.”
Hallengren said 40 million Swedish crowns ($4.67 million)would be used to produce more information on vaccines and measures such as buses offering drop-in vaccination slots in areas with low uptake.
Sweden has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic and has instead mostly relied on voluntary measures. The country will abolish almost all remaining restrictions and recommendations in two weeks, but the Health Agency cautioned that those who choose to not get the shot would still need to follow guidelines.
“Not getting vaccinated means that you cannot return to the every-day life we had before 2020. The Swedish Public Health Agency will shortly return with special advice and instructions for the unvaccinated,” Health Agency Head Johan Carlson said.
Sweden’s death toll per capita from the virus during the pandemic is much higher than those of its Nordic neighbours, but lower than most European countries that opted for lockdowns.
($1 = 8.5719 Swedish crowns)
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; editing by Niklas Pollard)