In January to March 2022, 760 people died in Iceland, a sharp increase of 30% compared with the previous year. Excess mortality in the first quarter against the average for the past five years is 28%.
Chief Epidemiologist Thorolfur Gudnason, who recently fell seriously ill with COVID-19 despite triple vaccination, which according to him provides excellent protection against serious illness, says Covid may explain this increase. However, as 64 people have died with COVID-19 since the start of the year, this might explain at most a third of the increase of 168 deaths, as it is unknown what proportion of the 64 deceased actually died from Covid rather than with Covid but from a different underlying cause (in England and Wales this proportion is 64%, according to official data). Two deaths following vaccination were reported in the first quarter – though the under-reporting rate of vaccine injuries in Iceland is unknown.
What, then, explains deaths jumping by 28%, from an average of 592 over the previous five years – fluctuating between a minimum of 560 and a maximum of 620 – to 760 in 2022?
The explanation for most of those excess deaths is clearly not COVID-19, and the breakdown of deaths by cause is not yet available. Judging from weekly data available it seems the bulk of the excess mortality was among the over-70s. Mass vaccination was mostly over by autumn 2021, but in late November, December and January about a third of the population, predominantly people middle-aged and older, got their third dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
By the end of March, the media reported a rapid rise in influenza infections, but this can hardly be a contributing factor with only 10 hospitalisations reported and no deaths.
So we have an unprecedented surge in excess mortality in the first quarter of 2022, a third of which at most may be attributed to COVID-19. The rest remains unexplained and the only notable health-related event that occurred around the same time was booster vaccination of a third of the population. Notably, in many other countries mortality, which was elevated in the second half of 2021 (for reasons not yet fully understood), was back to normal in early 2022. But then, the booster campaigns in those countries took place earlier than in Iceland.
Thorsteinn Siglaugsson is an economist who lives in Iceland. Find him on his blog.