The ONS announced last week that there were 49,428 deaths registered in England in December, which is 1,200 more than in November, and 17.5% more than the five-year average.
Age-standardised mortality rates for leading causes of death other than Covid were close to their five-year averages, suggesting that Covid was the main reason for elevated mortality last month (see below). Although, as noted before, cause-of-death comparisons should be interpreted with caution.
December’s overall age-standardised mortality rate was 9.3% higher than the five-year average. This is a greater disparity than last month and the month before. Though it’s still less than that seen in September. Here’s my updated chart of excess mortality in England since January of 2020:
What’s more, December’s age-standardised mortality rate was 8% lower than the same month a year before. Notice that the bump for the winter of 2021 is slightly lower than that for the winter of 2020.
While it’s certainly good news that mortality is lower, you might have expected a bigger reduction, given the many fewer people had natural immunity last December, and less than 1% of the population had been fully vaccinated.
Indeed, it’s noteworthy that going from under 1% fully vaccinated to more than 68% double vaccinated (including almost all elderly people) is only associated with 8% lower all-cause mortality.
This is consistent with evidence from other European countries, where post-vaccination waves have been as or more deadly than pre-vaccination waves. Such data are hard to reconcile with claims of 90% vaccine effectiveness against death.
With December’s figures out, we now have a full year’s worth of mortality data for 2021. So, how does the second year of the pandemic compare to previous years? It was more deadly than 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016. However, it was actually less deadly than 2015 – just six years earlier.
Here’s the ONS’s chart plotting the age-standardised mortality rate each year, going back to 2001:
The overall level of mortality in 2021 was higher than it would have been in the absence of the pandemic (it was above trend, in other words). Yet it was lower than in 2015, 2010 and every year in English history before that. All in all then, 2021 was not a remarkable year for mortality.