COVID-19 the Likeliest Explanation for Excess Mortality in 2022

From the night shift at the COVID-19 ward.

Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund believes that COVID-19 is the only possible explanation for excess mortality in Iceland last year, RÚV reports. Guðrún emphasised that vaccinations had in all likelihood reduced mortality and that the number of deaths was to be explained by a large number of infections.

COVID-19 deaths on the rise again

After a significant decline last autumn, the number of deaths due to COVID-19 has begun to rise once again; thirteen individuals died from COVID-19 in Iceland in January 2023, compared to an average monthly mortality rate of three between the months of August and October last year.

Yesterday’s RÚV reported that there had been an inordinate number of excess deaths last year, which suggests that twice as many people – or about 400 – had died from COVID-19 last year than previously thought.

Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund told RÚV that COVID-19 was really the only explanation: “There were excess deaths in 2022 at around the same time as the big omicron wave hit between February and March. And then there was another smaller wave in July, which was when the excess mortality rate rose again,” Guðrún remarked. “And there is no other explanation for these deaths other than COVID-19.”

As noted by RÚV, excess mortality also increased in other countries after waves of COVID-19 passed. Guðrún noted that the pandemic could also have had an indirect effect on mortality: “It could mean reduced access to the healthcare system in some countries, or some other societal trends,” Guðrún observed.

More deaths in January 2023 than in all of 2021

In 2020, there were 31 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, while in 2021, the number decreased to 8. Last year year, however, there were 211 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, but as previously mentioned, the deaths last year were probably closer to 400. The latest available data from the health authorities are from January, 2023, which indicate that thirteen individuals died from COVID-19 during the first month of the year. This number exceeds the total number of deaths for all of 2021.

As noted by RÚV, there were also excess deaths in January: 70 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, while deaths in January are, on average, usually around 60 per 100,000 inhabitants. Guðrún noted that around the turn of the year, there was a great number of covid infections. “But then there were also other infections, like influenza and RS.”

More infections = more deaths

82% of the population, aged five and over, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and more than 55% of the nation has been diagnosed with the disease. Given this, a reporter from RÚV asked why the number of COVID-19 deaths had increased last year.

Guðrún replied that a rise in the number of deaths could not be attributed to vaccinations. “On the contrary, I think the situation would have been much worse if there had been no vaccinations … the omicron wave was, of course, much bigger than others that had preceded it, and, as a result, more people got sick,” Guðrún remarked.