COVID Context

I just finished reading an interesting medical study published in October, 2019, regarding annual flu mortality rates. Given its currency and subject matter, it would be precisely the sort of study that would be getting cited by the news media and government health authorities, if those entities had an interest in providing useful context against which citizens might evaluate the COVID-19 pandemic for themselves. Since, however, providing citizens with the context necessary for making informed, independent assessments is exactly what the fearmongers-for-profit media and their leash-holders in the global progressive political establishment wish not to do, you have likely heard nothing about this study, unless you searched it out for yourself, as I did.

Rather than get into the weeds with you here, I will simply recommend that you follow the link in the first sentence, above, if you would like to see all the fun details about the study’s methodology for yourself. Meanwhile, I will cut to the chase.

The researchers, working as the Global Pandemic Mortality (or GLaMOR) Project, examined influenza mortality rates for the period 2002-2011, excluding the atypical 2009 pandemic year for a more representative picture of normal rates.

Here is a passage from the paper’s summary “Discussion” section:

Our study of global seasonal influenza-associated respiratory mortality is one of three influenza burden projects conducted in consultation with WHO; the others were led by the US-CDC and GBD project. We find that 389 000 deaths from respiratory causes are associated with influenza each year on average (range 294 000 – 518 000) during 2002-2011, excluding the 2009 pandemic season, implicating influenza in roughly two percent of all annual respiratory deaths. This estimate is similar to the CDC estimate – an important result in light of the very different global extrapolation methods used. Notably, the GLaMOR and CDC estimates are 2-3 fold higher than the GBD estimate. This is in part because the GLaMOR and CDC estimates include all influenza-associated respiratory deaths, while the GBD estimates only include deaths from lower respiratory tract infections that are directly caused by influenza; differences in extrapolation approaches for data-poor countries may also have played a role.

Let us break this down slightly:

  • The total worldwide deaths from normal flu viruses in an average year are estimated at 389,000.
  • During the period covered by this study, one of the years comprising the range of mortality for a normal (non-pandemic) year saw a total of 518,000 flu deaths.
  • This study (like the mentioned CDC study) included in its calculations not only deaths directly caused by the flu virus, but other respiratory deaths judged to be “influenza-associated.” (Remember that, it is significant.)
  • The average of 389,000 annual deaths from influenza constituted only two percent of all respiratory-related deaths during those years. (Not two percent of all deaths; two percent of all respiratory deaths — and that is even while counting all the respiratory deaths “associated” with the flu, but not directly caused by it, as flu deaths.)

Let us continue now with a little more information from the researchers’ discussion:

We further found that two-thirds (67%) of seasonal influenza deaths occurred in those ≥65 years of age but with large regional variation – from 36% in Sub-Saharan Africa to 86% in Europe; these differences are likely driven by regional variation in baseline mortality, age structure and socio-demographic development. Influenza-associated mortality rates were 26 times higher in those ≥65 years compared to those <65 years, highlighting the larger burden in the elderly and importance of this age group for mitigation of seasonal influenza.

Even in Europe, then, which had the world’s lowest percentage of influenza deaths from among the under-65 population (partly because Europe’s average life expectancy is very high), a full fourteen percent of flu deaths occurred among those younger than 65 years of age. The rest of the world had higher rates of under-65 flu death. In other words, every shock headline you are seeing in the mainstream media these days about a younger person who died of COVID-19, as though such a thing were unheard of and unprecedentedly terrifying, may be taken as a reminder of thousands of such deaths in any normal flu year that the same media completely ignored as non-newsworthy. (And rightly so, since of course every unfortunate family loss from a viral illness is not world news. It only becomes world news when it is judged to serve propaganda purposes.)

Finally, the researchers provide this notable qualification:

Neither the GLaMOR nor CDC estimates captures influenza-associated deaths ascribed to cardiovascular causes, indicating that the total mortality burden of influenza is likely to be substantially higher. Had we analysed cardio-respiratory or all-cause mortality outcomes, our estimates would have had higher sensitivity (ie, captured more influenza-associated deaths) but would have had lower specificity (ie, had less precision). In the GLaMOR study of the 2009 influenza pandemic, that ratio of all-cause to respiratory influenza-associated mortality was about 2:1.

Two interesting points here.

First, the study’s estimated average of 389,000 annual influenza-related deaths does not include any of the cardiovascular deaths during the relevant years which might have been “associated” with the flu, although the authors estimate that had they included flu-associated cardiovascular deaths, the annual average would have been much higher than 389,000, perhaps twice as high.

Second, the reason that neither this study nor the U.S. CDC’s similar study from 2018 included cardiovascular deaths was that doing so would make the final estimates far higher, but also far less reliable, due to the imprecision of ascribing flu-association as a cause of death in cardiovascular cases. Notice the difference between this relatively conservative scholarly decision, shared by the CDC in 2018, to follow a procedure of defining flu-related deaths in a manner that excludes the more nebulous cardiovascular cases, and the current CDC policy of effectively designating every death of a person with COVID-19 as a death from COVID-19.

The U.S. CDC document announcing the new WHO code for identifying COVID-19 on death certificates, dated March 24, 2020, introduces the new rules in a Q and A format, which includes the following two items:

Will COVID-19 be the underlying cause?
The underlying cause depends upon what and where conditions are reported on the death certificate. However, the rules for coding and selection of the underlying cause of death are expected to result in COVID19 being the underlying cause more often than not. [Italics added.]

Should “COVID-19” be reported on the death certificate only with a confirmed test?
COVID-19 should be reported on the death certificate for all decedents where the disease caused or is assumed to have caused or contributed to death. [Italics added, but the final clause is in bold type in the original document.]

From this, it would seem to follow — and there have been many corroborating private reports from doctors and medical officers around the United States — that the COVID totals, at least in the U.S., which has by far the most deaths, include cardiovascular (and other non-respiratory) deaths, unlike the influenza studies from GLaMOR (2019) and the CDC (2018), which deliberately excluded these. And remember, the reason they were excluded from those studies is that in non-respiratory cases, the causal connection to the flu virus is far more nebulous, thus leading to much higher but much less trustworthy totals of “flu-associated deaths.”

There is a bit of context for you. None of it is intended to suggest that COVID-19 is a hoax, or to deny that many human beings have died from this new flu-like virus that has spread quickly around much of the world, or to devalue the dead, or any of the other nonsense being routinely thrown at those of us who like freedom, prosperity, and a non-slavish population enough to view the current inundation of media and government fearmongering as indicating a deliberate attempt to manipulate facts and numbers for the sake of scaring people into sacrificing their liberty, their economic security, and their dignity. Rather, it is merely offered as useful and necessary background against which to measure the current “crisis.”

That useful background, to summarize: According to a study published just months before this pandemic struck, almost 400,000 people around the globe die each year from the ordinary flu or from “flu-associated” illnesses — and that does not include non-respiratory flu-associated deaths, the inclusion of which might as much as double the average annual tally. 

People make less reasonable choices, and are more likely to follow authority blindly, when they are motivated by irrational fear. Seeing dangers as larger than they really are is of the essence of irrational fear. The lack of contextual understanding is a primary cause of irrational fear. Therefore, reviewing dangers with the benefit of relevant context is an effective way to reduce irrational fear, by bringing the apparent (i.e., subjective) size of the danger into line with its objective reality. Such a fear-reducing contextual review will therefore increase people’s ability to make reasonable choices, and reduce their likelihood of following authority blindly. From this it also follows that those who desire expanded authority over others, or who wish to help establish such an expanded authority, have a vested interest in concealing or muddying the fear-diminishing context relevant to any perceived danger. This last fact itself is another useful bit of context.

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