WHEN 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 (Axis of the Good) a few days before Johnson’s remarks were made public through his former adviser Dominic Cummings. The numbers are from official German statistics; the percentage distributions derived from those numbers are remarkably 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)
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: (2)
Mortality Table Germany 2019
With the ageing of our population, the total number of deaths has been increasing 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. (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 June 29, 2021, looks as follows: (8)
Mortality table ‘with coronavirus’, Germany 2020/21 :
One may compare the percentage age distribution of these ‘corona deaths’ with the one of 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?
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 figures 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 heartbreaking. 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.
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 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 which 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? Is it normal to die at age 60 the reader may ask. No, it’s not, of course not, every single case is tragic (and deserves medicine’s full and best attention). But 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. Specifically in answer to that question, in every population, there are always some 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 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) The percentage of Corona mortality in these age groups is not only not higher, but effectively lower (!) than the one in the general population.
The conclusion is – 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 (not in every individual case), at roughly the same time. 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 about 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 March 12, 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 pre-requisite 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 with 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 per cent. (14)
However, even if entire populations become vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, people will continue to catch common colds and flu, severe forms will continue to occur in the elderly and immunologically weakened, and a 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.