Comparison of pandemic excess mortality in 2020-2021 across different empirical calculations

May, 2022


Different modeling approaches can be used to calculate excess deaths for the COVID-19 pandemic period. We compared 6 calculations of excess deaths (4 previously published and two new ones that we performed with and without age-adjustment) for 2020-2021. With each approach, we calculated excess deaths metrics and the ratio R of excess deaths over recorded COVID-19 deaths. The main analysis focused on 33 high-income countries with weekly deaths in the Human Mortality Database (HMD at and reliable death registration. Secondary analyses compared calculations for other countries, whenever available. Across the 33 high-income countries, excess deaths were 2.0-2.8 million without age-adjustment, and 1.6-2.1 million with age-adjustment with large differences across countries. In our analyses after age-adjustment, 8 of 33 countries had no overall excess deaths; there was a death deficit in children; and 0.478 million (29.7%) of the excess deaths were in people <65 years old. In countries like France, Germany, Italy, and Spain excess death estimates differed 2 to 4-fold between highest and lowest figures. The R values’ range exceeded 0.3 in all 33 countries. In 16 of 33 countries, the range of R exceeded 1. In 25 of 33 countries some calculations suggest R>1 (excess deaths exceeding COVID-19 deaths) while others suggest R<1 (excess deaths smaller than COVID-19 deaths). Inferred data from 4 evaluations for 42 countries and from 3 evaluations for another 98 countries are very tenuous Estimates of excess deaths are analysis-dependent and age-adjustment is important to consider. Excess deaths may be lower than previously calculated.

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