MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

This post has no direct relation to so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), except that many fans of SCAM and most anti-vaxxers claim that COVID-19 is ‘just a flu’ and therefore should not be taken all that seriously. A little bit of this or that SCAM is surely enough for protecting us, they claim. To all who are of this opinion, I recommend reading this new BMJ paper very carefully.

This analysis aimed at estimating the changes in life expectancy and years of life lost in 2020 associated with the covid-19 pandemic. A time-series analysis was undertaken with the data from 37 upper-middle and high-income countries or regions with reliable and complete mortality data. The annual all-cause mortality data from the Human Mortality Database for 2005-20 were used, harmonized, and disaggregated by age and sex.

The reduction in life expectancy was estimated as the difference between observed and expected life expectancy in 2020 using the Lee-Carter model. Excess years of life lost were estimated as the difference between the observed and expected years of life lost in 2020 using the World Health Organization standard life table.

A reduction in life expectancy in men and women was observed in all the countries studied except New Zealand, Taiwan, and Norway, where there was a gain in life expectancy in 2020. No evidence was found of a change in life expectancy in Denmark, Iceland, and South Korea. The highest reduction in life expectancy was observed in

  • Russia (men: −2.33, 95% confidence interval −2.50 to −2.17; women: −2.14, −2.25 to −2.03),
  • the United States (men: −2.27, −2.39 to −2.15; women: −1.61, −1.70 to −1.51),
  • Bulgaria (men: −1.96, −2.11 to −1.81; women: −1.37, −1.74 to −1.01),
  • Lithuania (men: −1.83, −2.07 to −1.59; women: −1.21, −1.36 to −1.05),
  • Chile (men: −1.64, −1.97 to −1.32; women: −0.88, −1.28 to −0.50),
  • Spain (men: −1.35, −1.53 to −1.18; women: −1.13, −1.37 to −0.90).

Years of life lost in 2020 were higher than expected in all countries except Taiwan, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and South Korea. In the remaining 31 countries, more than 222 million years of life were lost in 2020, which is 28.1 million (95% confidence interval 26.8m to 29.5m) years of life lost more than expected (17.3 million (16.8m to 17.8m) in men and 10.8 million (10.4m to 11.3m) in women). The highest excess years of life lost per 100 000 population were observed in

  • Bulgaria (men: 7260, 95% confidence interval 6820 to 7710; women: 3730, 2740 to 4730),
  • Russia (men: 7020, 6550 to 7480; women: 4760, 4530 to 4990),
  • Lithuania (men: 5430, 4750 to 6070; women: 2640, 2310 to 2980),
  • the US (men: 4350, 4170 to 4530; women: 2430, 2320 to 2550),
  • Poland (men: 3830, 3540 to 4120; women: 1830, 1630 to 2040),
  • Hungary (men: 2770, 2490 to 3040; women: 1920, 1590 to 2240).

The excess years of life lost were relatively low in people younger than 65 years, except in Russia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and the US where the excess years of life lost was >2000 per 100 000.

The authors concluded that more than 28 million excess years of life were lost in 2020 in 31 countries, with a higher rate in men than women. Excess years of life lost associated with the covid-19 pandemic in 2020 were more than five times higher than those associated with the seasonal influenza epidemic in 2015.

_______________________

I hope (yet, sadly, I am not sure) that this will silence all those who like to claim:

it’s just a flu!

25 Responses to COVID-19, just a flu? No! More than 28 million excess years of life were lost in 2020 in 31 countries

  • My sister-in-law was something of a hypochondriac, and she always used to ensure that she used her whole sick leave entitlement each year. One of her many ailments from time to time would be “a touch of flu”, which was her name for a cold. However, on one occasion she caught real flu. She had never been so ill in her life and thought she was dying. I have had flu a couple of times and I know how incapacitating it can be, but luckily I have managed to avoid being one of the nearly 30,000 people who die each year in the UK of flu and pneumonia (these are usually counted together as it is difficult separating them on the basis of what is recorded on death certificates). The latest UK Covid figures (as of yesterday, from the Government’s web site) show a total of 141,588 deaths within 28 days of a positive PCR test, and 164,491 deaths where Covid-19 was given as the cause on the death certificate.

    Both flu and Covid-19 are serious diseases which kill a lot of people, though Covid is clearly a great deal more deadly. What a lot of people don’t seem to realise is that even though it primarily kills the elderly and clinically vulnerable, these are still individuals whose life expectancy would otherwise have been many years.

  • What would the numbers be for the flu if we didn’t have vaccines for it?

    • Here is a good recent Cochrane review. I hope this can help you find some information related to your question.

      • Thanks but not really.

        One could try and compare the flu from 1819-1919 to COVID (many issues in doing so) but it had a mortality around 0.64 percent of the total population in the US. If one extends that to COVID that would be over 2 million deaths.

        Im not taking a position but to make any comparison claims one has to try to compare apples to apples. The year 2015 isn’t a good apple.

    • The short answer would be “Worse”. To quantify “How much worse?” you’d need to go digging. Although it’s unclear what the point of your question is: the sort of people who say “COVID is just a flu” are likely the same sort of people who call every minor winter sniffle “a flu”. (“Man flu”, more like.)

      I’ve only caught influenza once in my life that I can remember: H1N1, the swine flu of 2009. The best analogy would be to a pipe bomb with two loose caps exploding. Constantly. For an entire week. I lost a quarter stone, couldn’t hold food, and barely able to stand long enough without my legs collapsing to make it to the bathroom for the next delightful round of “Which end first?” The rest of the time I was screwed up in bed, simultaneously burning with fever and shivering with cold. The head colds and sinus infections that I frequently acquire, while unpleasant, I would never refer to as “flu”. They’re not even the same ballpark. And H1N1 was nowhere near the worst strain of flu ever (the infamous Spanish flu of 1918 killed 50–100 million, compared to COVID’s 5–10 million to date).

      So when COVID-denying idiots refer to COVID as “just a flu”, I am twice as contemptuous. It’s one thing to be painfully ignorant about a brand new disease, but one that’s already plagued humanity for centuries and even on its good years has a kill record of note? That speaks not only to wilful ignorance but appalling callousness as well.

      In any case, the effectiveness of flu vaccines has no direct bearing on the effectiveness of COVID vaccines. The influenza virus is famous for its frequent mutations and myriad varieties, which is why producing flu vaccines is such a crapshoot: vaccine manufacturers have to guess which of those strains is going to go global many months in advance, to allow sufficient time for mass production. Sometimes they guess well and, come next winter, their vaccine’s efficacy is high; sometimes they don’t. (HIV and common cold viruses also have very high rates of mutation, which is why creating vaccines for those is so hard. Fortunately, other viruses are a lot more stable, so are very unlikely to out-evolve existing vaccines.)

      One extra benefit from COVID research: Learning how to create COVID vaccines at high-speed should allow eventually flu vaccines to be manufactured much more rapidly too, so that flu vaccine production can start later once the strain that needs targeted is already known. We’ll never be rid of the COVID or influenza viruses entirely (thanks, animal reservoirs!), but—global poverty, psychopathic politicians, and SCAM empires willing—the diseases they cause should eventually become well controlled, nuisances more than killers, all for the extremely reasonable price of an annual “sharp scratch”.

      • Using known data from the 1918 flu it had a global mortality of around 2.7%.

        At today’s population that would be around 207 million deaths.

        COVID deaths are around 4.5 million.

        Of course many variables that need to be accounted for when looking back 100 years and how that would calculate to a comparison of years of life lost, that I will leave to others.

        • … many variables that need to be accounted for…
          YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN!

        • Yes and what’s your point? If you’ve got one, please make it. If not, best stop waving your arms around before you take somebody’s eye out.

          • I already made my point. Would it help you if I typed slower?

          • “I already made my point. Would it help you if I typed slower?”

            Please. Because this was not a point:

            “What would the numbers be for the flu if we didn’t have vaccines for it?”

            At best it’s a question, bordering on a JAQ-off. So I am really struggling to find something in your commentary that is.

            And though I am willing to extend the courtesy of doubt to you (not something I’d ever do for the likes of Dullman or Roger, who’ve long since proved they do not deserve it), I am not beyond thinking the worst of people should they start to give me reason. So please don’t do that. Take the feedback as constructive, reformulate your post so that the point you intended to make is up-front clear to everyone, and hopefully we can enjoy a productive discussion. Or, if not, whatever.

          • DC, early post: “I only browsed the article but I didn’t see where they adjusted for the impact of the influenza vaccines in 2015 or mention it as a limitation of the comparison.”

            My “point”: they appear to be comparing a virus with a supposedly effective vaccine to a novel virus without a vaccine at that time.

            I guess that’s fine as long as they mention that in the paper. I didn’t see it mentioned in the paper. Again, maybe it was mentioned and I just missed it. Maybe they just assumed the reader knows this?

            Thus it appears that their 5 times higher conclusion, well, shall I say, lacks clarity.

            Personally I think it would have been a better paper if they left out the attempt to compare COVID to influenza…made the paper messy.

          • @DC

            My “point”: they appear to be comparing a virus with a supposedly effective vaccine to a novel virus without a vaccine at that time.

            I guess that’s fine as long as they mention that in the paper. I didn’t see it mentioned in the paper. Again, maybe it was mentioned and I just missed it. Maybe they just assumed the reader knows this?

            Flu has been around for a while and it goes without saying that influenza is a disease for which we have “supposedly effective vaccine” (using your words in quotes).

            Prevailing argument made by covid-minimizers and vaccine-effectiveness-deniers is something like “Covid-19 is no worse than flu” not “Covid-19 is no worse than flu without flu vaccinations”. Therefore, I don’t think flu data in the study need to be adjusted for the effect of flu vaccinations.

            I am not a statistician, but I wonder how one would try and regress out the impact of vaccinations from flu numbers. Raw vaccination numbers per year per country is probably available somewhere, but how would one estimate the impact of flu vaccinations based on the raw vaccination numbers? There are a lot of regional factors involved like the weather, population density, practices of hygiene etc. Anyone have any ideas?

            The year 2015 isn’t a good apple.

            As for why they chose 2015 I cannot say. But that is a question you had, you could perhaps find the answer by reading the paper thoroughly and complete making your point rather than expecting others to do the work for you.

  • I only browsed the article but I didn’t see where they adjusted for the impact of the influenza vaccines in 2015 or mention it as a limitation of the comparison.

  • The numbers on Covid cases are totally cooked. The PCR test in many cases is being used to diagnose Covid, a use for which it is not meant, according to the inventor of the PCR test. With enough cycles you can find any sequence with the PCR test even on a goat or a papaya, as the president of Tanzania showed. They looked at the numbers of people in Italy that supposedly died of Covid. Ruling out those who had serious commodities, the numbers who died of Covid were very small. I think half of the deaths supposedly from Covid in the USA (and probably elsewhere) were in nursing homes. Not exactly a population with a long life expectancy. There is a lawsuit being brought for the improper fatal drugging of nursing home patients during these Covid times.

    If people want to run around like a chicken with their head cut off squawking “Covid, Covid, Covid” I guess that is their right. It doesnt benefit them. But it sure benefits Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, etc. They are making billions on marginally effective injections. They dont immunize and only prevent symptoms for a few months in a small number of people relative to the huge numbers that have to be injected. By all means, line up to be a guinea pig on the Covid booster assembly line.

    • Roger

      Even for an idiot like you, that’s an impressive amount of stuff to get wrong in just one short post.

      Perhaps if, like my wife, you’d been watching unvaccinated patient after unvaccinated patient die on her ICU unit, you might possibly be singing a different tune. But you’re a homeopath and, as such, you and your bag of imaginary nostrums won’t ever get anywhere near a seriously ill patient.

      You can continue with your ignorant bleating, Rog. We all know you like to feel special. Prop your deficient ego up however you like. You aren’t going to alter reality. The truth won’t conform to your delusions no matter how hard you wish it to.

    • The numbers on Covid cases are totally cooked.

      Thank you, Willy Loman, for your expert insight. Now do excess deaths.

      • Excess deaths can provide insight but it doesn’t account for other possibilities which may or may not be related to COVID.

        At least in the USA :

        We had western wildfires which some say increased mortality in 2020 over previous years due to pollutants.

        Some folks with serious health issues (cancer, heart attacks, etc) refused to seek appropriate care due to fear of COVID and thus some died prematurely.

        Decrease in medical screenings.

        Homicides significantly increased in 2020.

        I haven’t seen any good data on potential increased suicidal rate but it needs to be considered as well.

        And other factors.

        So yes, with some factors COVID played a role in increased mortality, others not so much and with others it’s how some governments (and others) handled the epidemic.

        • @DC: “Excess deaths can provide insight but it doesn’t account for other possibilities which may or may not be related to COVID.”

          I don’t think anyone here would dispute that. However, what excess deaths do is set some absolute limits, so that we know the number of COVID deaths lies somewhere within that range [1]. Therefore a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation is sufficient to determine if Roger’s confident claim that the COVID death stats are “totally cooked” is remotely realistic. To which, the quick answer is “LOL, no”. The COVID death count is well within that range, just as we’d expect.

          Unless, of course, Roger is claiming that the total number of annual reported deaths is also being faked to cover up the faking of the COVID death count. Which would slide us nicely into AltRight fever dreams (“death panels”, “death camps”, and all the rest of that abject nonsense) that automatically qualifies for immediate dismissal and being laughed out the room, as it’s impossible for all but the most repressive of governments—think North Korea—to lie about millions of its citizens being dead/not dead and not quickly get found out [2].

          At which point we can simply apply Occam’s Razor, and conclude that out of the choices “Vast global conspiracy requiring the unquestioning loyalty and absolute silence of many millions at every level of government and society” and “Roger is a paranoid kook with putty for brains and hysteria for evidence”, it’s not even a contest.

          [1] Also, while you note some non-COVID factors that may cause increased deaths—disrupted medical treatments, more suicides—you overlook other factors that might lead to a reduction in deaths, e.g. less traffic so fewer road fatalities, fewer workplace accidents, etc. So we might hazard those will approximately balance out by the end. We’re using very broad ballpark numbers here, to assess the likeliness of Rogers (even broader) claims. For precise answers there is epidemiology.

          [2] Even a Russia or China would struggle to maintain such a massive fraud for any length of time, never mind the western nations. The taxman alone would never stand for it, and the only thing democratic governments care about more than collecting taxes is getting themselves reelected every 4 years. Hard to do either with a large percentage of the populace burning down your door, and there are many far easier ways to maintain the status quo.

          • Even a Russia or China would struggle to maintain such a massive fraud for any length of time, never mind the western nations. The taxman alone would never stand for it, and the only thing democratic governments care about more than collecting taxes is getting themselves reelected every 4 years.

            Russia and China, of course, do not have democratic governments and pleasing the electorate isn’t very high on their list of priorities. Particularly China, where the government can be confident that they will still be in power in 30 years’ time despite the many atrocities they perpetrate, which means that they can successfully carry out long-term projects that would be very difficult in a democracy. For this reason I am inclined to find China’s claims that they will be carbon-neutral by 2060 more plausible than many of the promises from Western governments which have industrial lobbyists to keep happy and may well have their policies reversed if they are voted out.

          • has: “ you overlook other factors that might lead to a reduction in deaths, e.g. less traffic so fewer road fatalities,…”

            “NHTSA’s projections show significant increases in fatalities during the third and fourth quarters of 2020 as compared to the corresponding quarters of 2019.”

            https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/2020-fatality-data-show-increased-traffic-fatalities-during-pandemic

            Work place fatalities, probably down overall. Official nationwide reports usually aren’t released until the end of the following year. Mixed findings from individual states that have released their findings.

            Of course my point was that one shouldn’t look at excess deaths and contribute them all to Covid-19, at least as the direct cause of death. Not saying you did, just clarifying for other readers.

            Are some reports “cooked”? Probably more like: some have misused or misinterpreted the data…on both sides, IMO.

            I don’t think we will know the true impact of COVID and how “we” responded to it for some time.

    • @Roger

      The PCR test in many cases is being used to diagnose Covid, a use for which it is not meant, according to the inventor of the PCR test.

      1. Completely utterly bullshit, which is exclusively spread by corona deniers and anti-vaxxers.

      https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/pcr-antigen-and-antibody-five-things-know-about-coronavirus-tests

      2. Misleading. The quote regarding the limitations of PCR tests appears not to be directly from Mullis, but in any case is not evidence the test is fraudulent. PCR tests are being used widely in England to show that SARS-CoV-2 viral genetic material is present in the patient.

      https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-pcr-idUSKBN24420X

  • Talker: “ As for why they chose 2015 I cannot say. But that is a question you had, you could perhaps find the answer by reading the paper thoroughly and complete making your point rather than expecting others to do the work for you.”

    The paper mentions why they used data from 2015. That isn’t what was being questioned. Rather that there was a vaccine available and it could account for some of the years lost. This needs to be factored in or mentioned as a limitation in the paper.

    If one wants to compare Covid to other viruses where a vaccine was not available, at least initially, there are options.

    https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/influenza-pandemics

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