Excess Mortality

Anti-Lockdown Florida and South Dakota Among Best Pandemic Performers, Pro-Lockdown New York and California Among Worst, Study Finds

Lockdown-loving states New York and California are among the worst overall pandemic performers while freedom-loving states Florida and South Dakota are among the best, new research by a leading U.S. think tank has found.

A working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research has scored and ranked U.S. states by their performance over the past two years on three measures – health, economy and education – before combining them into a composite score and overall rank.

The paper, entitled “A Final Report Card on the States’ Response to COVID-19“, is written by Casey B. Mulligan, Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago, Phil Kerpen, President of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation. It is a follow-up to the preliminary report card the authors published in October 2020.

For economic performance the authors used two measures: unemployment and GDP by state. For education they used a single metric: the percentage of schools that stayed open in 2020-21 as tracked by Burbio (with hybrid instruction weighted half). For mortality they used two measures: Covid-associated deaths reported to the CDC and all-cause excess mortality.

Vaccinated Have Up To SIX Times the Infection Rate of Unvaccinated, New Zealand Government Data Show

New Zealand is a fascinating country – amazing geography, likeable population, and, unlike its neighbour Australia, most of its wildlife isn’t planning on killing you at the slightest opportunity. It is also fascinating with respect to Covid because its population has a very high vaccination rate across all age groups (well, down to five), but up until recently there has been negligible natural immunity to Covid. Because of these two factors, New Zealand was always going to be of interest as soon as Covid arrived properly, if only to see how its vaccination efforts had protected its population.

For those who missed it, since the end of last year New Zealand has had a succession of Covid waves. These started small, but in the most recent wave, taking place during February and March, infection rates were enormous – if we had these infection rates in the U.K. we’d have peaked at approximately 350,000 cases per day (rather than around 200,000). What’s more, it looks like New Zealand exceeded its testing capacity during that wave, suggesting that peak infections were probably even higher.  It is relevant to note that during February and March, New Zealand had over 90% of all the cases it has ever had and most of the rest occurred in January – prior to 2022 New Zealand reported very few Covid infections.

So much for the Covid vaccines protecting against infection – but what do the data look like in detail?

The 23,000 Unexplained Deaths in England and Wales That Raise Serious Questions of Vaccine Safety

Can we find signals of vaccine injury deaths in U.K. mortality data? Will Jones isn’t sure, but I think we can.

A recent study by the Health Foundation at first glance suggests there is very little to cause concern. Indeed, the headline number of 34,000 fewer non-Covid deaths during the pandemic, together with the fact that non-Covid deaths have been lower than average during 80% of the period, should be a cause for some celebratory relief. However, this is not the end of the story, and there are some important caveats to this rather rosy outlook. A major one is the possibility that Covid deaths have been overcounted by Covid being ascribed to deaths from other causes, and non-Covid deaths correspondingly undercounted.

There has been some discussion of this in the media recently, and it is indeed a distinct possibility as the UKHSA definition of a Covid death is one that has occurred within 28 days of a positive Covid diagnosis, whether or not that person died for another reason. In the analysis below I am using ONS data, where the definition is that COVID-19 appears somewhere on the death certificate. This means it includes deaths where COVID-19 was not the underlying cause. There is also evidence that COVID-19 was put as underlying cause more often than it should have been. Insofar as Covid deaths have indeed been overcounted and non-Covid deaths undercounted the trends presented here will be underestimates and the true trends will be larger.

February’s Age-Standardised Mortality Rate Was the Second Lowest on Record

The ONS announced last week that there were 43,081 deaths registered in England in February, which is 6,700 fewer than in January, and 7.2% less than the five-year average from 2016–2019 plus 2021.

Age-standardised mortality rates for leading causes of death other than Covid were again below their five-year averages. Though recall that the ONS now uses a new baseline for the five-year average, meaning that the latest figures are not directly comparable with those for previous months.

For the sake of consistency with previous posts, I will use the five-year average from 2015–2019 in the remainder of this post.

February’s overall age-standardised mortality rate was 10.1% lower than the five-year average, and the second lowest on record. This represents a continuation of the trend from January, which also saw the second lowest age-standardised mortality on record for that month. Here’s my updated chart of excess mortality in England since January of 2020:

Convergence in Excess Mortality in Western Europe

Are a certain number of Covid deaths more-or-less unavoidable? Or is it possible to not merely ‘crush the curve’ of mortality, but to prevent it from ever rising in the first place?

It’s clear from excess mortality data that some countries have ‘done’ substantially better than others, although how much this has to do with policy – let alone lockdowns – remains to be seen. (It could be culture or pre-existing immunity.)

For example, I’ve argued that early border controls are what allowed geographically peripheral state like Norway and New Zealand to escape the first wave, and shield their elderly populations until such time as vaccines and better treatments became available.

On the other hand, the vaccines don’t seem to be as effective at preventing death as originally claimed, with several countries witnessing sizeable upticks in excess mortality even after vaccinating the vast majority of their elderly populations.

Consider the chart below, which shows cumulative excess mortality since the start of the pandemic for every country in Western Europe. The exact definition of ‘cumulative excess mortality’ is given below the title.

Lancet Study Which Claims Pandemic Death Toll is Three Times Higher Than Official Figures Uses SIX Models and Churns Out Nonsensical Results

A new paper in the Lancet has attracted some interest, both because it claims to find that the pandemic death toll is over three times higher than official Covid death figures suggest and because it seems to confirm that restrictions made no difference to outcomes. The authors say that while “reported COVID-19 deaths between January 1st 2020 and December 31st 2021 totalled 5·94 million worldwide”, they estimate that “18·2 million people died worldwide because of the COVID-19 pandemic (as measured by excess mortality) over that period”.

However, the paper is heavily dependent on modelling, so despite the welcome implication for the ineffectiveness of lockdowns, caution is needed.

The paper aims to “estimate excess mortality from the COVID-19 pandemic in 191 countries and territories, and 252 subnational units for selected countries, from January 1st 2020 to December 31st 2021”.

The relevant data were not always available, however, so the authors “built a statistical model that predicted the excess mortality rate for locations and periods where all-cause mortality data were not available”.

Not all excess deaths are Covid deaths, of course. The authors say that although they “suspect most of the excess mortality during the pandemic is from COVID-19”, excess deaths also include deaths from lockdown, including “deaths from chronic and acute conditions affected by deferred care-seeking”. However, there are currently insufficient data to distinguish Covid deaths from other excess deaths, they say, and while audits in Belgium and Sweden have suggested that excess deaths and Covid deaths are of a similar magnitude, audits in Russia and Mexico have suggested otherwise, as a “substantial proportion of excess deaths could not be attributed to SARS-CoV-2 infection in these locations”.

The authors used an ensemble of six models to estimate expected and thus excess deaths: “Excess mortality over time was calculated as observed mortality, after excluding data from periods affected by late registration and anomalies such as heat waves, minus expected mortality. Six models were used to estimate expected mortality; final estimates of expected mortality were based on an ensemble of these models.”

EU Excess Mortality Suggests that Vaccine Effectiveness Has Been Overestimated

One piece of evidence that vaccine effectiveness against death has been overestimated is that some countries’ post-vaccination waves were as or more deadly than their pre-vaccination waves – when going by excess mortality. These countries include Israel, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway.

Take Israel, for example. Despite having gone through two previous waves of Covid, and having double-vaccinated 55% of its population, the country saw a major third wave in the autumn of 2021. During this wave, excess mortality was higher than it had been in the winter of 2020-21.

Israel then saw another wave of Covid in January of 2022, during which excess mortality again peaked at higher level than it had done last winter. And this was after the country had begun rolling out fourth doses. It’s hard to reconcile the overall pattern with claims of, say, 90% effectiveness against death.

But perhaps I’m cherry-picking. What if the patterns of excess mortality in the five countries mentioned above are explained by some as-of-yet unknown idiosyncratic factors (as opposed to lower-than-claimed vaccine effectiveness)?

It’s hard to imagine what those idiosyncratic factors might be. What’s more, the five countries have something in common – they all experienced below-average excess deaths in their pre-vaccination waves. As a result, there may have been more very frail elderly people alive when their post-vaccination waves hit.

Another way to adress the charge of cherry-picking is to zoom out, and look at data for a larger grouping. Here’s monthly excess mortality for the EU-27 as a whole. (Four years of data from 2016-2019 were used to calculate the baseline, rather than the usual five.)

Deaths 9% Below Average – When Will The Government Declare the Pandemic Over?

Deaths in the most recent week for which data are available were 9.3% below the five-year average in England and Wales, prompting questions of why in such a mild winter the Government is being slow to join countries like Denmark in reclassifying COVID-19, repealing pandemic laws and lifting the state of emergency.

Figures from the ONS released today show that in the week ending January 28th 2022, there were 1,269 fewer deaths registered in England and Wales compared to the five-year average, which is 9.3% lower. This figure uses data from 2016-19 and 2021 as the five-year average, missing out 2020 as a pandemic year. However, deaths in January 2021 were very high, so this skews the five-year average upwards. Nonetheless, compared with the 2015 to 2019 five-year average, deaths in England and Wales were still 2.8% below average (359 fewer deaths).

The figures also show that almost a third of Covid deaths in the most recent week did not have COVID-19 recorded as underlying cause on the death certificate. Of the 1,385 deaths involving COVID-19, 71.2% (986 deaths) had Covid recorded as the underlying cause of death (compared with 72.9% in the previous week). This means 28.8% of deaths officially counted as Covid deaths were registered as from another underlying cause.

Reflecting the low mortality, excess deaths in hospitals and care homes were running well below average, at 17.9% and 20.1% below respectively. However, deaths in private homes continue to run high, being 17.8% (557 deaths) above the five-year average. While some of this may be displacement from hospitals and care homes, with people continuing to avoid them, the full circumstances around this ongoing issue need to be properly investigated.

Latest Mortality Figures Suggest That Vaccine Effectiveness Has Been Overestimated

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.

Deaths Trending 6% Below Average in Mid-January – Time to Accept It’s Over

Winter deaths are usually running high at this point in January, but this year is different. According to the latest figures from the ONS, released today, in the week ending January 14th there were 6.1% fewer deaths than the five-year average in England and Wales (872 fewer deaths). Note that the five-year average the ONS uses doesn’t include 2020, but 2016-19 (which has historically low mortality) and 2021.

In the previous week there were 7.8% fewer deaths than the five-year average (1,036 fewer deaths).

A reflection of the mildness of Omicron and the level of immunity in the population, this makes 2021-22 a mild flu season, and further underlines how unjustified any measures to combat coronavirus now are. The state of emergency and all laws and guidance – including the vaccine mandates – must be removed without delay so that healthy normality can be restored.

This article has been corrected for a mistake in the information about which years are included in the ONS five-year average.