A new international study on the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in six northern European countries has unexpectedly discovered that the pre-existing seasonal nature of coronaviruses may have played more of a role during the pandemic than any of the government public health intervention policies – including vaccinations, lockdowns, masks and travel restrictions. The scientific study was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Journal of Clinical Medicine.
The international team of scientists and medical experts used 10 years of human coronavirus monitoring data collected in Sweden before the pandemic to estimate the seasonal variations in coronavirus incidence in northern Europe. They then used publicly available data on the COVID-19 pandemic for six northern European countries (Ireland, UK, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland) to compare the relative contributions to the progression of the pandemic in each country of: (1) seasonality; (2) vaccination programmes; and (3) other public health measures. They studied the various waves of the pandemic from early 2020 until May 2023, when the WHO declared the public health emergency over.
The authors found that the increases and decreases of each wave consistently followed the natural seasonal behaviour of coronaviruses – increasing during the winter “cold and flu season” and decreasing during the summer. In contrast, the scientific team were surprised to find no clear or consistent influence from either the vaccination programmes or the many public health interventions that were implemented.
Key findings of the study are summarised in the table below:
The lead author, Dr. Gerry Quinn, a research scientist specialising in microbiology and immunology, described the significance of these surprising findings as follows:
“Since the start of the pandemic, governments and societies around the world have been implementing unprecedented measures in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. Whenever cases began to fall, many people believed that this was due to the public health interventions. But, a careful examination of all the available data shows that this belief was mistaken. It now transpires that most of the changes were probably due to natural seasonal changes of coronaviruses.”
Another author of the study, Prof. Karol Sikora (Medical Director of Cancer Partners International and Consultant Oncologist; former Director of the WHO Cancer Programme), emphasised:
“The finding that most of the apparent successes of the government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were actually due to the natural seasonality of coronaviruses makes the negative health impacts of the lockdowns and other interventions even more disturbing. In the UK, we are still reeling from the harms these policies caused for cancer treatment and diagnosis and many other health concerns throughout the pandemic. Now, it seems that these dramatic health interventions did not even noticeably alter the progression of the pandemic.”
Prof. Norman Fenton, a Professor Emeritus of Risk at Queen Mary University of London and a mathematician who specialises in data analysis and statistics, was also a co-author. He warned that,
“From the beginning of the pandemic, there have been major problems in the interpretation of the publicly available COVID-19 data. During the first waves, health agencies were still developing, changing and increasing testing capacity. This meant that initial attempts to evaluate the COVID-19 public health measures were hindered by inconsistencies in the official data. Ambiguities in the definitions of COVID-19 vaccination statuses also led to considerable confusion in assessing the impacts of the vaccination programmes. Another problem was that many of the model-based studies only considered either the first or the second wave.
However, this comprehensive new study overcame many of these statistical challenges by considering five different indicators of the pandemic and separately analysing each country over multiple waves of the pandemic. The results show that the overwhelming influence of seasonality created a false, and scientifically invalid, confidence in the many previously untested public health interventions that most governments used.”
The study was published on 6th January 2024.
For media inquiries, please contact Dr. Gerry A. Quinn (Centre for Molecular Biosciences, Ulster University) at email@example.com or Dr. Ronan Connolly (Center for Environmental Research and Earth Sciences) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Links to the open access study and the journal citation details are below:
Gerry A. Quinn, Michael Connolly, Norman E. Fenton, Steven J. Hatfill, Paul Hynds, Coilín ÓhAiseadha, Karol Sikora, Willie Soon and Ronan Connolly (2024). “Influence of Seasonality and Public-Health Interventions on the COVID-19 Pandemic in Northern Europe”. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 13(2), 334; https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm13020334