Jersey had five more deaths last year than would have been expected in non-covid times, a new study has estimated.
The research, published in the Lancet last month, was discussed by the Government’s advisers on covid in a meeting on 15 March, and their thoughts were captured in recently published minutes.
The 'Scientific and Advisory Cell' addressed the issue of ‘excess deaths’ in Jersey. In any year, there will be a ‘usual’ number of deaths – which is usually reached by taking a five-year average – and ‘excess deaths’ refers to any number above this.
They were told that provisional figures for last year – before full mortality data is available – showed an increase of five deaths, a 0.6% increase.
According to the Lancet study, Jersey had 56 fewer deaths in 2020 than would be expected, a fall of 6.9%, which was similar to the negative excess death rates seen in Australia and New Zealand, although STAC expressed caution in the data due to the study’s ‘basic methodology’ and the island’s small sample size.
Pictured: A STAC member commented on the "extraordinary" high death rate in Hong Kong.
The minutes record: “A graphic included with The Lancet article showed that excess mortality was quite low in areas that had eliminated covid, such as Australia and China, unlike countries in Latin America, Russia and Europe, where figures were quite high.
“...A Cell member commented on being particularly struck by the extraordinarily high fatality rate in Hong Kong. They added that the diagram illustrated how important the protective effect of vaccination was for older and more vulnerable adults and that this also scotched the myth that Omicron did not pose a serious problem.
“The variant could be inferior in terms of severity of illness when compared with Delta but that did not mean it was not highly threatening in terms of severe disease and as a cause of mortality.
“The contrast with New Zealand with the vaccination strategy was incomparable and it was an impressive graph to share with Ministers and others about the importance of the pace and intensity of Jersey’s vaccination regime and why it needed to be maintained as this was what had prevented Hong Kong’s case mortality rate being replicated in the island.
“It was described as a very powerful message.”
STAC also discussed the ‘fourth wave’ that the island is still experiencing. At the time of the meeting, there were 2,274 cases with around 300 new cases a day, 13 patients with covid in hospital and 27 in care homes. More than 500 students and 100 staff had been reported with covid in the previous ten days.
The minutes state: “With the fourth wave having now included the highest number of deaths at 38, there was a question from a Cell observer about whether the waves were of equal length or was it down to the Omicron variant.
“It was noted that most of the waves lasted for six months, but in the others the prevalence was low compared to wave four, which had high prevalence but a low case fatality rate.
“This prompted a Cell member to suggest that in terms of pure numbers of deaths, the fourth wave looked the worst, but it needed to be put into context that a lot more people had caught covid.
“Another Cell member stated that it was very important to note that due to the vaccination programme, the mortality rate had dropped to 0.13% and that it remained so in each wave, irrespective of absolute numbers.
“This was different to what the published evidence suggested about the severity of Omicron. The fact the rate had been pushed to 1 in 1,000 was as a result of the vaccination programme and therefore it should not be allowed to wane or atrophy, or the mortality and severe disease rates would undoubtedly return to the levels revealed in the Hong Kong graph.”
The Lancet study found that the number of excess deaths due to covid was largest in the regions of south Asia, north Africa and the Middle East, and eastern Europe.
At the country level, the highest numbers of cumulative excess deaths due to covid were estimated in India (4.07m), the USA (1.13m), Russia (1.07m), Mexico (798 000), Brazil (792 000), Indonesia (736 000), and Pakistan (664,000).
It concluded that the full impact of the pandemic had been much greater than what had been indicated by reported deaths due to covid alone.
The latest batch of STAC minutes to be published cover the end of January to mid-March.
They span a period of rising case numbers, the spread of the BA.2 sub-variant of the virus, and the subsequent decision to postpone the end of mandatory isolation by a month.
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