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No, vaccines are not causing thousands of excess deaths
Over the course of the pandemic, most countries have seen more deaths than normal as Covid-19 has travelled through the population. In many cases, deaths have risen and fallen along with national outbreaks. But in recent months, some highly vaccinated countries have started to see more deaths than might normally be expected.
Some online conspiracy theorists have framed this rise in “excess deaths” a “mystery”, while others have explicitly blamed vaccines. Some even suggest it shows jabs are part of a larger plan to depopulate the planet. But not only is there no evidence for such claims, there are actually plenty of unsurprising explanations for these tragic mortality rates.
What are “excess deaths”?
“Excess death” refers to higher than expected mortality in a population. The measure is calculated by comparing the total mortality figures for a specific period with those from the same period in previous years. Excess death includes death by all causes, which can give epidemiologists an impression of the impact of a health crisis on a population.
This can be a useful measure for scientists as it captures all kinds of deaths that aren’t directly linked to Covid-19, like those caused by healthcare delays. It may also pick up Covid-19 deaths that haven’t been included in official data because of a lack of testing, for example. But it isn’t a perfect measure, and relies entirely on the quality of mortality data collected by individual countries, which can be poor.
Why are excess deaths high in some highly vaccinated countries?
Some countries like the UK, Germany and Israel have seen an uptick in excess mortality in recent months. This may seem surprising at first glance, because these countries have highly vaccinated populations. As the Financial Times reported last week, there are more excess deaths being reported in the UK, for example, than there are deaths from Covid-19.
So why are these countries seeing a rise in mortality? Does it mean, as disinformation websites like Lifesite and The Exposé claim, that vaccines themselves are causing these excess deaths?
Thankfully, the answer is no. Health issues following vaccination are closely monitored, and there’s no evidence to suggest the jabs are secretly causing large numbers of deaths.
As we know, excess death figures capture mortality from all causes: Covid-19 or otherwise. So these figures will pick up mortality linked to other aspects of the pandemic, as well as deaths that are completely unrelated to Covid-19.
One possible factor in some of these deaths is ongoing delays to non-Covid care. Many countries’ health systems have been put under serious pressure by the pandemic, resulting in large numbers of cancelled and delayed appointments and procedures. It may well be that these are now being reflected to some degree in excess deaths.
As University of Sheffield researcher Colin Angus explains, early cancer diagnoses fell by more than a quarter in England last year, for example, while the number of patients completing elective treatments fell by four million.
Patients have also been reluctant to seek care from family doctors and hospitals for a number of reasons during the pandemic, like fear of catching Covid-19 or adding unnecessary pressure to health services.
Aside from the pandemic, other demographic factors may be pushing up excess deaths in countries with ageing populations, like the UK, Germany and Israel.
An age-adjusted analysis by the UK’s Continuous Mortality Investigation found that a relatively modest increase in excess UK deaths in September could be explained by the fact there are more elderly people in the country than there were in previous years.
Vaccinations, on the other hand, have been proven to save lives. As Covid-19 cases rise and new variants threaten to change the trajectory of the pandemic, disinformation about the jabs could not be more dangerous.