Objective To estimate the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mortality in 2020 in 29 high-income countries with reliable and complete age and sex disaggregated mortality data.
Design Time series study of high income countries.
Setting Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, England and Wales, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United States.
Participants Mortality data from the Short-term Mortality Fluctuations data series of the Human Mortality Database for 2016-20, harmonised and disaggregated by age and sex.
Interventions Covid-19 pandemic and associated policy measures.
Main outcome measures Weekly excess deaths (observed deaths versus expected deaths predicted by model) in 2020, by sex and age (0-14, 15-64, 65-74, 75-84, and ≥85 years), estimated using an over-dispersed Poisson regression model that accounts for temporal trends and seasonal variability in mortality.
Results An estimated 979 000 (95% confidence interval 954 000 to 1 001 000) excess deaths occurred in 2020 in the 29 high income countries analysed. All countries had excess deaths in 2020, except New Zealand, Norway, and Denmark. The five countries with the highest absolute number of excess deaths were the US (458 000, 454 000 to 461 000), Italy (89 100, 87 500 to 90 700), England and Wales (85 400, 83 900 to 86 800), Spain (84 100, 82 800 to 85 300), and Poland (60 100, 58 800 to 61 300). New Zealand had lower overall mortality than expected (−2500, −2900 to −2100). In many countries, the estimated number of excess deaths substantially exceeded the number of reported deaths from covid-19. The highest excess death rates (per 100 000) in men were in Lithuania (285, 259 to 311), Poland (191, 184 to 197), Spain (179, 174 to 184), Hungary (174, 161 to 188), and Italy (168, 163 to 173); the highest rates in women were in Lithuania (210, 185 to 234), Spain (180, 175 to 185), Hungary (169, 156 to 182), Slovenia (158, 132 to 184), and Belgium (151, 141 to 162). Little evidence was found of subsequent compensatory reductions following excess mortality.
Conclusion Approximately one million excess deaths occurred in 2020 in these 29 high income countries. Age standardised excess death rates were higher in men than women in almost all countries. Excess deaths substantially exceeded reported deaths from covid-19 in many countries, indicating that determining the full impact of the pandemic on mortality requires assessment of excess deaths. Many countries had lower deaths than expected in children <15 years. Sex inequality in mortality widened further in most countries in 2020.
Islam, N., Shkolnikov, V. M., Acosta, R. J., Klimkin, I., Kawachi, I., Irizarry, R. A., … & Lacey, B. (2021). Excess deaths associated with covid-19 pandemic in 2020: age and sex disaggregated time series analysis in 29 high income countries. BMJ, 373.