As society emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is salutary to reflect on the experience from a public health perspective. New research has shown Ireland had no excess deaths during the main years of the pandemic.
A report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicates that Ireland was one-of-nine OECD countries to avoid excess deaths between 2020 and 2022. It had the fourth lowest rate behind New Zealand, Iceland, and Norway.
The OECD measured the difference between the number of people who died between 2020 and 2022 and the number of people who would have been expected to die during that time if the pandemic had not happened. Excess death figures include those who died from Covid-19 without having been tested, as well as from other illnesses.
A statement from the Department of Health on the data emphasised the objectivity of the ‘excessive deaths’ metric. The Department pointed out it is the most reliable measure of the total impact of the pandemic during these years.
Previous estimates of excess deaths during the pandemic did not account for changes in population size and demographics.
The OECD reviewed the methodology used to calculate excess deaths and accounted for demographic trends in each country. Ireland’s total population increased by 8 per cent between the 2016 and 2022 census. The number of people aged 65 and over increased by 22 per cent during these years.
Not only did Ireland not record excess mortality during 2020 to 2022, it had a lower than expected death rate.
Naturally, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he was “very pleased” to report on the figures.
“Ireland asked a lot of its population during this time and the restrictions that were put in place had a profound impact on us all,” Minister Donnelly said.
“These figures point to the success of Ireland’s public health measures and to the strong uptake of our Covid-19 vaccination programme.”
The Department’s Chief Medical Officer Prof Breda Smyth said the OECD paper has highlighted some of “important caveats” associated with previously published estimates on excess mortality during the pandemic. Prof Smyth said the Irish population demonstrated a strong adherence to public health measures during this time. She added Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been one of the most successful internationally, with 96 per cent of the adult population receiving their primary vaccinations.
“We know that vaccines save lives, as well as preventing serious illness and hospitalisations,” she said.
The value of vaccination is of continuing relevance. On 28 December, the HSE issued a press release on the increase of people with respiratory illnesses attending emergency departments (EDs). In the week leading up to the release, a total of 538 people with influenza and 282 with Covid attended EDs. This was an increase from 312 with influenza and 144 with Covid attending EDs the previous week.
While thankfully lockdowns have currently been consigned to the past, it is important that the Government and health officials continue to draw attention to the benefits of vaccination and other public health measures this winter, and beyond.
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