When the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said in October 2020 that the median age of Covid fatalities was above life expectancy, he was clearly on to something. It is a pity, and a terrible mistake of historical dimensions, that he – and so many others – did not drive their reasoning to the logical conclusions, let alone act on them. 

The following is a translation and adaptation of an article which appeared on the German blog “Achse des Guten” a few days before Johnson’s remarks were made public through his former advisor Dominic Cummings.

The numbers are from official German statistics; the percentage distributions derived from those numbers are however very similar across the whole Western world. 

In the course of the last 150 years, mankind has landed many notable successes in its fight against disease and death, against infant and maternal mortality. It has thus raised the average age of death in the Western world from 35 years to around 80 years (1). 

Eighty years is an average. Some people still die at a younger age, but fortunately far fewer than in earlier times. A total of 939,520 people died in Germany in 2019, with the following distribution in age groups (Source : Federal Statistics Office, 2):

Mortality Table Germany 2019 :

Age Group Number of Deaths Percentage
0-9 years 3,242 0.35%
10-19 years 1,188 0.13%
20-29 years 3,095 0.33%
30-39 years 6,534 0.70%
40-49 years 15,575 1.66%
50-59 years 56,967 6.06%
60-69 years 114,470 12.18%
70-79 years 202,955 21.60%
80-89 years 350,365 37.29%
>90 years 185,129 19.70%
Total 939,520 100,00%

With the ageing of our population, the total number of deaths has been increasing rather steadily in recent years (3). However, the mean age of death and the percentage distribution among age groups have remained relatively constant (4,5) ; they are also fundamentally similar across all countries of the Western world (e.g. the United States, see 6).

For almost one and a half years now, we have been kept in anxiety and fear with the daily cumulative figures of “corona deaths” (7). The age distribution of these deaths “with  coronavirus”  (the official denomination, i.e. death of a person with a positive test, not necessarily from a viral pneumonia) in Germany up to 29/06/2021 looks as follows (source: Robert Koch Institute, 8):

Mortality table “with coronavirus”, Germany 2020/21 :

Age Group Number of Deaths Percentage
0-9 years 15 0.02%
10-19 years 11 0.01%
20-29 years 82 0.09%
30-39 years 234 0.26%
40-49 years 703 0.78%
50-59 years 3,050 3.36%
60-69 years 8,234 9.08%
70-79 years 18,872 20.72%
80-89 years 40,935 44.55%
>90 years 19,159 21.13%
Total 90,664 100,00%

The interested reader may compare the percentage age distribution of these “corona deaths” with the one in the general population and ask the following questions:

– How do the “corona deaths” differ from the natural mortality table ?

– For which subgroups, if any, would it make sense to explore life-prolonging measures? 

– Which age groups should be considered in such a discussion about possible life-prolonging measures? 

This is what the percentage distribution along age groups in both groups looks graphically :

One should and must ask a few more questions :

  • After almost one and a half year of mass testing, can we not safely assume that the PCR test positives are a largely representative sample of the general population ?
  • Given that this is the case, don’t the deaths “with coronavirus” (i.e. with a positive PCR test) look as though they are part of the normal and unpreventable death pattern in Germany ?  
  • Is this not the basic hypothesis that every statistician or epidemiologist worth his or her salt would have enounced – if it weren’t for the fact that we have entered an era of extraordinary public hysteria ? 

Also, these percentage distributions are remarkably similar everywhere in the world – no matter which measures had been taken against the Coronavirus, see for example in Sweden (9).  

Since the virus does nothing to neonates, children and adolescents – or perhaps because they have so far been submitted to fewer tests – people “with Corona” actually reach an average age which is a little higher than that of the rest of the population.  

In statistical terms, the coronavirus (or – rather – the positive PCR test) is a random variable with regards to the result “death” – like athlete’s foot or wearing red socks. Of course, severe forms of respiratory infections caused by/with SARS-CoV-2 do exist. Of course, medicine is obliged to help and support each and every one of the people affected. Of course, individual cases can be heart-breaking. Of course, NHS capacities may be stretched during the winter (they generally are). On average however, the “corona deaths” would have left this world at the same time, with Corona or from (or with) another virus or another disease. We are not immortal. On average, we die at our average age of death. 

All those calculations of allegedly lost lifetime (10) claim that the cohort (group) of people who had died “with Corona” would have reached an average age of well beyond 90 years, had it not been for the virus. This is statistical nonsense. One cannot and must not transfer the remaining life expectancy of a person alive at age 80 to a cohort of dead people. Following this methodology, it would be possible to declare any random variable (red socks for example) to be a mortal danger. (11)

Some authors (12) have put forward the hypothesis that the mortality risk due to (or with) Corona is equal in its age distribution to, but (largely) additional to the normal mortality risk: So to speak, the virus acts like a terrorist who kills 100.000 people with the same age distribution as the mortality table in the general population.  If this were true, if this were even possible, we would have had to see a corresponding increase in general mortality across all countries – which we have not (13). As we are talking of people killed by (or with) a respiratory disease whose course is mild in the majority of cases, not of people killed by a terrorist, we would furthermore again have to ask the essential question   Why should they have lived significantly longer than the rest of the population, what would have pre-destined this particular cohort (of Corona test-positives) to a longer than average lifespan? No, this assertion is not tenable either. 

People in the 50-70 age groups also die of (or “with”) Corona? The emotionally affected reader may ask whether it is “normal” to die at age 55 or 60.  No, it is not, of course not; every single case is tragic (and deserves medicine’s full and best attention). However, our politicians should know that it inevitably happens sometimes, and that you need to compare and analyse numbers on a population level, instead of being swayed by emotion about individual cases. 

In every population, there are always a few 50-70 year olds who unfortunately die – this is inevitable in the human condition. Some of these 50-70 year-olds have always died of (or with) a viral respiratory infection (like the one caused by the Coronavirus). The essential question therefore is whether more people of these age groups die because of the Coronavirus than previously. The answer is No because:

1) We have not observed and are not observing a significant excess mortality in these age groups. 

2) In percentage terms, the Corona mortality in these age groups is not only not higher, but effectively lower than the one in the general population. 

The conclusion is that the Coronavirus has no influence on the mortality of the 50-70 age groups. And that very conclusion is the same for all groups below 80 years of age. As 80 is the average age of death in the population, the general conclusion therefore is that the Coronavirus has no influence on population mortality.

Science and virology have certainly progressed over the last 16 months, and perhaps humanity will benefit from this in the future. Nevertheless, in 2020 and in 2021, the “corona deaths” would have died, on average, at roughly the same time. “On average” does not mean that every single Corona victim would have died at the same time without the virus – many things would have been different in a world without Corona. However, it does mean that, on a population level, mortality would not have been significantly different. We are in the presence of normal and unavoidable population mortality. We are not immortal. On average, we die at our average age of death.

Since March 2020, our societies have been treating this normality as if it were a catastrophe. However, no short-term political or social intervention can prevent general population mortality at an average age of currently around 80 years. Nor can it prevent our continuous (especially during the cold season) and immunising confrontation with freshly mutated respiratory viruses.  We could have known this. Many experts and politicians (perhaps Boris Johnson among them) certainly knew it at the latest on 12th March 2020, when the Italians publicly announced the data on their first 2,003 “Corona deaths” (largely from Bergamo and its surroundings): Average age 80.3 years, all (“with two possible exceptions”) suffering from severe pre-existing conditions (12).

Incidentally, no vaccination can prevent normal population mortality either – and I suppose many of my former colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry know this.  As a prerequisite for any marketing authorisation – even more so for such hasty and therefore risky ones – the regulatory authorities should have demanded mortality studies (i.e. proof of a lower total number of deaths in the vaccinated group compared to the placebo group). 

Such a study would have been very unlikely to produce a positive result though, as normal human mortality at the general average age of death cannot be prevented. 

Instead, the evidence of a reduction in common cold symptoms with a positive test was declared a relevant clinical endpoint and published with great fanfare (13), and the seasonal decrease in test-positive cases and deaths – which was already observed last summer – is being celebrated as a success of vaccination. German (and other) professional associations claim, against their better judgement, that the vaccines’ pivotal studies have proven that they prevent severe forms and deaths by almost 100%. (14)

However, even if entire populations become vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, people will continue to catch common colds and flus, severe forms will continue to happen in the elderly and immunologically weakened, and a certain, yearly fluctuating number of average 80-year-olds will leave us as always – with the coronavirus, or with other mutated respiratory viruses and with their constantly mutating variants. 

If the human consequences of the political and societal response to this one respiratory virus were not so horrific, we could almost watch and enjoy the whole thing as a grotesque farce. Perhaps in the not too distant future, a (hopefully still – or again !) free humanity may learn useful lessons from this dystopian episode. In particular, we need to develop a healthily sceptical distrust of a certain type of scientists who spread fear and anxiety with their model-based predictions, and of their political followers.

References :

  1. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/185394/umfrage/entwicklung-der-lebenserwartung-nach-geschlecht/
  2. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1013307/umfrage/sterbefaelle-in-deutschland-nach-alter/ 
  3. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/156902/umfrage/sterbefaelle-in-deutschland/ 
  4. Sonderauswertung – Sterbefälle 2016 bis 2021 (Stand: 05.07.2021) (destatis.de)
  5. 2_5251422028526783027_online.pdf (2020news.de)
  6. https://www.statista.com/statistics/241572/death-rate-by-age-and-sex-in-the-us/
  7. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
  8. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1104173/umfrage/todesfaelle-aufgrund-des-coronavirus-in-deutschland-nach-geschlecht/
  9. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1107913/number-of-coronavirus-deaths-in-sweden-by-age-groups/
  10. https://fullfact.org/news/boris-johnson-whatsapp-covid-life-expectancy-cummings/
  1.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7646031/#eci13423-sec-0005title         
  1.  https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3259)
  1.  https://www.destatis.de/EN/Themes/Cross-Section/Corona/Society/population_death.html
  1. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa2034577
  2. Coronavirus, Brusaferro (Iss): età media dei deceduti è 80,3 (today.it)
  3. https://www.dgi-net.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20210323_COVID_Impfung_Stellungnahme.pdf

A version this piece first appeared in the Conservative Woman