COVID-19 Main Cause of Excess Deaths in Australia Between 2021 and 2023: ABS

The ABS also said COVID-19 vaccines did not contribute to excess deaths during the period.
COVID-19 Main Cause of Excess Deaths in Australia Between 2021 and 2023: ABS
COVID-19 infection increases the long-term risk of digestive diseases. (UGREEN3S/Shutterstock)
Alfred Bui

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has said that COVID-19 was the main cause of excess deaths among Australians between 2021 and August 2023.

During a Senate inquiry on June 13 regarding excess mortality, representatives from the ABS were questioned about the significant increase in mortality rates in recent years.

Excess mortality refers to a situation where deaths from all diagnosed causes (including COVID-19) exceed expected numbers based on historical data.

The inquiry, initiated by United Australia Party Senator Ralph Babet, is investigating a range of factors contributing to the recent sharp rise in excess deaths, including the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines.
According to ABS data, excess mortality rose from -3.1 percent in 2020 to 1.6 percent in 2021, spiking to 11.7 percent in 2022 before dropping to 6.1 percent in 2023.

In addition, there were almost 20,000 cases of excess deaths in 2022 alone.

At the inquiry hearing, Bindi Kinderman, the general manager of the People and Place Division of the ABS, said COVID-associated deaths were behind the unusual rise in death cases between 2021 and August 2023.

“In 2020, COVID-19 ranked as the 38th leading cause of death in Australia. In 2021, it moved up to the 34th position,” she said.

“And by 2022, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death, marking the first time in over 50 years that an infectious disease was in the top five causes of death in Australia.”

Concerns About the Accuracy of ABS’s Data

Mr. Babet raised concerns about the accuracy of ABS data, noting that COVID-associated deaths included both those who died directly due to the virus and those who died with the virus.

He pointed out that of the 17,276 COVID-19 deaths over the past four years, only 702 (4.06 percent) had COVID-19 listed alone on the death certificate.

“So 95.94 percent of all COVID deaths reported over the past four years had pre-existing chronic conditions and or listed COVID-19 as a causal sequence of events,” he pointed out.

Mr. Babet then questioned whether the number of COVID-19 deaths reported by the ABS was defined accurately.

“And is it fair that deaths with COVID-19 are lumped in with deaths from COVID-19?” he asked.

In response, Lauren Moran, the director of the health and vital statistics section at the ABS, said the coding of deaths was a complicated issue.

She explained that Australians tended to have a lot of diseases, and in many cases, people died due to a combination of many factors.

“So the reason that we decided to present both together is because it is complex, it’s multifactorial,” Ms. Moran said.

“The coding of COVID-19 is actually the same as how we would code influenza. So what we’re looking for is, did COVID cause a pathway leading to death? Did it cause viral pneumonia? Did it cause acute respiratory distress syndrome?”

She also noted that the advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) was that people who had pre-existing health conditions were at higher risk of contracting COVID, but some conditions, such as dementia, could not cause COVID and just put patients at higher risk.

“Because it is of such high public health interest, and this is the same with influenza, it [COVID-19] is generally coded as the underlying cause of death,” she said.

A COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Sydney Road Family Medical Practice in Balgowlah in Sydney, Australia on Jan. 10, 2022. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
A COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Sydney Road Family Medical Practice in Balgowlah in Sydney, Australia on Jan. 10, 2022. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

ABS Says COVID-19 Vaccine Did Not Cause Excess Mortality

At the same, ABS representatives stated there was no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines had caused excess mortality, though a few deaths were linked to vaccine-related health complications.

“We’ve found that there were 16 deaths that were directly attributable to the vaccine,” Ms. Moran said.

“We know that there’s a lot of interest in vaccine-attributable injuries. So we’ve also had a look at deaths where perhaps the vaccine didn’t directly cause death, but it may have exacerbated existing health conditions.

“And so there are five additional deaths where we have found that the doctor or the forensic pathologist has said that the vaccine did exacerbate existing health conditions.”

The director also said the ABS had examined the number of deaths caused by the symptoms of COVID-19 vaccines, such as myocarditis, pericarditis, and thrombosis, to see whether the vaccines contributed to excess mortality.

“We’ve looked at all of those individually and there’s no increases that are abnormal,” Ms. Moran said.

“While we can’t measure directly what we don’t have, there’s no evidence of additional deaths due to the vaccine in the data set that we can see.”

Further, Mr. Babet questioned the ABS representative about whether the agency provided guidance to doctors about how they should record a vaccine-related death.

In response, Ms. Moran said there was no clear guidance at the time the data was composed.

“When we published that certification guide, the vaccines weren’t yet in use, so we didn’t have any guidance,” she said.

“We are updating our certification guide this year, and that will have a lot more information in it around medical procedures.”

Alfred Bui is an Australian reporter based in Melbourne and focuses on local and business news. He is a former small business owner and has two master’s degrees in business and business law. Contact him at [email protected].