An independent US global health research centre whose models informed COVID-19-related policymaking in America has made a dramatic U-turn in estimating the total coronavirus death rate. The bombshell announcement has now led them to claim that the number of Americans who have died of coronavirus is 57 percent higher than official figures.
The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), launched in June 2007 based on a principal grant of $105 million chiefly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is now arguing that the true global death toll of the pandemic is far higher than official statistics have been suggesting.
This morning, we're releasing a major change in our COVID-19 model (➡️https://t.co/5biAggRz1T). We're now incorporating excess mortality to approximate the total COVID-19 death rate worldwide. pic.twitter.com/IehmwuuaKB— Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) (@IHME_UW) May 6, 2021
The research institute headed by Dr. Christopher Murray, whose statistical models were used by the then-US President Donald Trump administration to justify coronavirus lockdowns in March and April 2020, is now offering its new approach to estimation of COVID-19 infections, hospitalisations, and deaths.
Our understanding of the magnitude of COVID-19 to date has been much worse than what we have been thinking. 🗓️ We are also extending our COVID-19 projections out to September 1, 2021 (they previously went out to August 1, 2021). pic.twitter.com/ypswlihywa— Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) (@IHME_UW) May 6, 2021
COVID-19 has killed more than 900,000 Americans and over 6.9 million people on a global scale, claimed the IHME on Thursday. The apocalyptic figures are in stark contrast to official figures, compiled by Johns Hopkins University. As of 6 May, the private research university in Baltimore, Maryland, lists 3.24 million deaths globally, and a US death toll of 580,000.
‘Variety of Statistical Methods’ Used
The team of IHME experts used a “variety of statistical methods” to estimate excess death rate, weighed against six other factors, based on measurements during a pandemic week by week, according to a series of explanatory videos offered by Dr. Christopher Murray.
With this total COVID-19 mortality adjustment, these are the countries that we estimate currently have the highest total COVID-19 deaths .vs. reported COVID-19 deaths: pic.twitter.com/v7af0kO6Ab— Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) (@IHME_UW) May 6, 2021
Excess mortality, claims the research, is influenced by six drivers of all-cause death that, in the current circumstances, are affected by mandates and protocols installed amid the pandemic.
The six drivers are:
- The total number of COVID-19 deaths directly related to the respiratory illness;
- Increase in mortality due to needed health care being delayed during the pandemic;
- Mortality surge due to increases in mental health disorders, including depression, alcohol use, etc.;
- Reduction in mortality due to decreases in injuries due to lockdown and social distancing measures;
- Reductions in mortality due to reduced transmission of other viruses and due to use of masks, sanitisers, social distancing measures, etc;
- Reductions in mortality when individuals with chronic conditions died earlier from COVID-19 instead.
The resulting data was lined up to compare with “anticipated deaths from all causes based on pre-pandemic trends with the actual number of all-cause deaths during the pandemic.”
The deaths both “indirectly attributable” to the pandemic and “averted” by the lockdowns were then taken out of the equation.
“When you put all that together, we conclude that the best way, the closest estimate, for the true Covid death is still excess mortality, because some of those things are on the positive side, other factors are on the negative side,” said Murray.
As for the reasons why the team decided to adopt this new approach, they outlined the fact that testing capacity varies markedly across countries and over time, with reported COVID-19 deaths, as a proportion of all deaths due to COVID-19, also varies significantly across countries.
Furthermore, in some high-income countries, deaths among senior individuals from COVID-19, especially in long-term care facilities, went unrecorded in the first few months of the pandemic.
The institute seems to imply that official coronavirus data is not to be trusted, with some nations more “untrustworthy” than others.
‘Assumptions, Educated Guesses’
The announcement by the Institute, which in 2020 published its model projecting deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, only to be slammed by many in the epidemiological community for being “misleading”, has now generated scepticism.
IHME’s claim that COVID-19 deaths have been “substantially undercounted” in some places more than others “is likely sound, but the absolute numbers are less so for a lot of reasons,” said William Hanage of Harvard University in an email for National Public Radio (NPR).
“Their estimate of excess deaths is enormous and inconsistent with our research and others. There are a lot of assumptions and educated guesses built into their model,” said Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Nevertheless, IHME has announced that their future modelling will be based on these estimates of total deaths.