Conceptual unclarity about COVID-19 ethnic disparities in Sweden: Implications for public health policy

Health (London). 2023 Mar;27(2):186-200. doi: 10.1177/13634593221074866. Epub 2022 Feb 13.


The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on abundant racial and ethnic health disparities in many countries around the world. In Sweden, statistics on COVID-19 mortality and morbidity from both the first and the second wave of the pandemic show that foreign-born individuals have been disproportionately affected, compared to Swedish-born individuals. However, as demonstrated in this article, key stakeholders including politicians, public authorities, mainstream media, and medical researchers do not draw on the same explanatory framework when conceptualizing the health disparity. Probing the different discourses that were articulated through oral and written accounts during the first wave, the article identifies three different frameworks of how ethnic health disparities in relation to COVID-19 were understood in Sweden: the socioeconomic framework, the culturalist framework and the biological framework. We discuss the importance of our findings for health policy and argue for continued interrogation of epidemiological knowledge production from a critical vantage point in order to successfully combat health inequalities.

Keywords: COVID-19; Sweden; discourse; ethnicity; race.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Ethnicity
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • United States