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Covid-19Jun 3, 2024

High death rates in Europe since the start of Covid-19 pandemic are a 'serious cause for concern'

Excess death rates have remained high in Europe and other Western countries for three years running since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic - despite the implementation of various containment measures and the availability of Covid-19 vaccines.

That is the conclusion of researchers who conducted a data analysis of 47 countries and published their findings today (4 May) in the open access journal BMJ Public Health. They call on governments and policymakers to thoroughly investigate the underlying causes, suggesting there is ‘serious cause for concern’.

The article’s first author is Saskia Mostert, who works at the Emma Children's Hospital in Amsterdam and the Princess Máxima Center for Paediatric Oncology in Utrecht. She and three Netherlands-based colleagues wanted to gauge the effectiveness of the response to the health crisis posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, as reflected in excess deaths.

These refer to the numbers of people who died from any cause above and beyond what would normally be expected for any given week/month from January 2020 to December 2022 in 47 countries in Europe, north America, Australia and New Zealand.

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Despite containment and Covid-19 jabs, there is 'cause for concern', say the researchers

Physique
Physique

High excess death rates in more than 40 countries

Dr Mostert and her fellow researchers applied a statistical method called Karlinsky and Kobak’s estimate model. This uses historical death data in a particular country from 2015 until 2019 and accounts for seasonal variation and annual trends in deaths due to changes in population structure. 

The total number of excess deaths in the countries included in the analysis was 3,098,456. Excess deaths were reported by 41 countries (87 per cent) in 2020, by 42 (89 per cent) in 2021, and by 43 (91 per cent) in 2022.

In 2020, the year in which the Covid-19 pandemic started and containment measures, such as lock-downs, social distancing, school closures and quarantines, were implemented, 1,033,122 excess deaths (11.5 per cent higher than expected) were recorded. 

In 2021, the year in which both Covid-19 containment measures and Covid-19 vaccines were used to curb SARS-CoV-2 virus spread and infection, a total of 1,256,942 excess deaths (just under 14 per cent higher than expected) were reported.

And in 2022, the year in which most containment measures were lifted, but Covid-19 vaccines were continued, preliminary data indicate that 808,392 excess deaths were recorded.

Excess mortality has remained high in the Western World for three consecutive years, despite the implementation of Covid-19 containment measures and Covid-19 vaccines. This is unprecedented and raises serious concerns [Saskia Mostert et al]

Greenland 'an exception'

Greenland was the only country out of the 47 reporting no excess deaths between 2020 and 2022. Among the others, the percentage difference between the reported and projected number of deaths was highest in 13 countries (28 per cent) during 2020, in 21 (46 per cent) during 2021, and in 12 (26 per cent) during 2022. 

The percentage difference between the documented and projected number of deaths was highest in 28 per cent of countries during 2020, in 46 per cent during 2021, and in 26 per cent during 2022.

It’s not clear how many of these excess deaths reflect the impact of Covid-19 infection, or the indirect effects of containment measures and vaccination programmes, say Dr Mostert and her colleagues.

While it is likely that the indirect effects of containment measures did change the scale and nature of disease for numerous causes of death following the pandemic, those caused by restricted healthcare use and socioeconomic upheaval are difficult to prove, they add.

Caveats and conclusions

The researchers acknowledge various limitations to their findings, including the incompleteness of some data, particularly for 2022, because it can take months or even years before a death is registered in certain countries, they explain.

And the way in which these data are compiled differs among nations, highlight the researchers, who also point out that the data they used provided no detailed stratification of key characteristics, such as age or sex.

Nevertheless, they conclude: ‘Excess mortality has remained high in the Western World for three consecutive years, despite the implementation of Covid-19 containment measures and Covid-19 vaccines. This is unprecedented and raises serious concerns.'

Dr Mostert and her colleagues add: ‘Government leaders and policy makers need to thoroughly investigate underlying causes of persistent excess mortality and evaluate their health crisis policies.’

To access the full version of the article – titled Excess mortality across countries in the Western World since the COVID-19 pandemic: ‘Our World in Data’ estimates of January 2020 to December 2022 Doi: 10.1136/bmjph-2023-000282 – click

Author: Ian A McMillan
Physique
Physique
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