• Anita Hollerer-Squire

Covid-19 dilemma

Statistics on Austrian Covid-19 deaths by age



To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? If you are as confused as I am about Covid-19 and whether you should or shouldn't get the vaccine - here are some facts that might help you decide.


I live in New Zealand, but there aren't enough Covid-19 cases here to research. Since I am from Austria - I looked into the reported cases of deaths there. I wanted to know what age groups they were, what underlying conditions they had and how they stack up against other causes of deaths. Austria is a perfect country to investigate, as it is in the middle of Europe, has a population of around 9 million, had lots of Covid-19 cases, had many lockdowns and is good at reporting all cases.


Let's start by taking a look of what Austrians died of prior to Covid-19. The graph below shows the 10 most common causes of death in Austria between 2009 and 2019.



According to Statistics Austria, here are the main causes of deaths:


2018:


A total of 83,975 people died in Austria in 2018, of:


  • Cardiovascular diseases (38.9%)

  • Cancer (24.5%)

  • Diseases of the respiratory organs (6.6%)

  • Diseases of the digestive organs (3.3%)

  • Other diseases (21.3%)

  • Unnatural causes of death (injuries and poisonings - 5.3%)


2019:


A total of 83,386 people died in Austria in 2019, of:


  • Cardiovascular diseases (38.6%)

  • Cancer (24.6%)

  • Diseases of the respiratory organs (6.3%)

  • Injuries and poisonings (5.5%)

  • Diseases of the digestive organs (3.6%)


2020:


A total of 91,599 people died in Austria in 2020:


  • Cardiovascular diseases - 32,678 people

  • Cancer - 21,803 people

  • Diseases of the respiratory organs - 4,850 people

  • Diseases of the digestive organs - 3,205 people

  • Other diseases - 24,992 people

  • Covid-19 - 6,491 people (about 7 %)



Age groups of deaths due to COVID-19 in 2020:


97% of those affected were older than 60 years. Out of the 6,491 deaths 4,384 were people over the age of 80. Only 0.9% were younger than 40 years of age.


See below graph for deaths by age group.



Underlying issues


Among those who died of COVID-19 in 2020:

  • Nearly three-tenths also suffered from hypertension; this was the most common comorbidity.

  • About one-fifth also had kidney disease.

  • About 18% of those who died of COVID-19 also had diabetes, ischemic heart disease, or dementia.

  • About 10% had chronic respiratory disease.

  • About 10 % had cancer.

  • Strokes, diseases of the digestive organs, obesity and pulmonary embolism were also frequently mentioned as concomitant diseases.


Although it is unclear how many people would have died in the course of the year even without COVID-19 disease, it can be assumed that the risk of dying from COVID-19 is to a substantial extent an additional risk.


It is not yet known, however, how many years of life (on average) one loses through a SARS-CoV 2 infection. Since many seriously ill patients with already shortened life expectancy are affected, the additional effect on the general life expectancy could be less than it would be derived from mortality alone.


Even if deaths are easier to collect than the number of people infected, these figures are not without controversy. Firstly, it is often difficult to determine whether a patient dies from COVID-19 (i.e., the virus is the cause of death) or dies with the virus (i.e., is infected but the cause of death is different).


More reliable than the number of deaths due to COVID-19 is the total number of deaths. Reports from several countries with stronger outbreaks of the epidemic indicate that the death figures in recent weeks are significantly higher than the long-term averages. But also in Austria, increased death rates, especially among the elderly, have been reported. The extent to which the deaths affect people who would have died this year even without COVID-19 may become apparent in the annual statistics.


As of 31 August 2021, there were a total of 682,605 Covid-19 cases in Austria and 10,579 deaths.


An interesting comparison is Sweden, as they took a different approach by not shutting down the country. They only had voluntary measures in place and don't even require the use of masks. Even so they had nearly double the amount of infections - with 1,123,413 infected people, they did not have that many more deaths than Austria - with 14,685 deaths.


Here are the statistics on the Covid-19 cases as of 1st of September 2021 (Austria is second from the bottom and Sweden is on number 14):




How Austria handled the Covid-19 outbreak


Mid March 2020, Austria put strict measures into place to deal with the rising infections. Austrians went into lockdown. They had to isolate themselves and could only make social contact with the people with whom they live. They could only leave the house for work that could not be postponed, to buy necessary food supplies and to help others. Very similar measures to what we had here in New Zealand. This first lockdown lasted until April.


Beginning of November 2020 Austrians went into a second partial lockdown. Schools, hairdressers and non-essential shops stayed open this time, and restrictions on leaving the home applied only at night. Restaurants, cafes and hotels closed except for takeaway food and for business travelers. Gyms, cinemas and theaters were shut too. The rules remained in force until the end of November. Masks had to be worn.


December saw the 3rd lockdown, which lasted until February 2021.



Vaccination rollout


Experts tell us that COVID-19 vaccines protect people from getting infected and severely ill, and significantly reduce the likelihood of hospitalization and death.


Austria started their vaccination rollout in January 2021. By the end of August 58.7 % of the population was fully vaccinated and 62 % have had at least 1 dose of vaccine.

Vaccination is not mandatory in Austria and many people choose not to get vaccinated.



New studies show, that people who are fully vaccinated can still get infected (i.e., “breakthrough infections”), and that there is a risk of transmission to others.


It’s still unclear how long the vaccines or recovery of COVID-19 will protect us against reinfection and whether it will shield us against new variants. Some experts suggest that the COVID-19 booster shots to bolster immunity are inevitable, but it’s tough to know when we should begin.


Austria plans to start Covid-19 booster shots from November. A booster vaccine will be offered six to nine months after the first course of vaccination to residents of care homes; people aged 65 and over; those with certain illnesses that put them at increased risk of severe COVID-19; and anyone who received either a Johnson & Johnson or Oxford/AstraZeneca shot as their initial vaccine. Everyone else over 18 years old can receive a third vaccine nine to 12 months after their last dose.


All those who have been either vaccinated, tested or have recovered can prove this with their Green Pass. This should make it possible to enter restaurants, visit cultural and sport institutions, or to travel and visit family safely again.



My take on it:


Looking at the percentage of people who died of (or with) Covid-19 (which was 7.2 %) and comparing that to the amount of people dying of heart diseases and cancers (which was about 63 %) makes me wonder why we don't implement stricter measures to combat those numbers. Common sense would tell us to re-look how we handle fast food, processed food, sugary drinks, pesticides and all those other toxins we are using every day to stop people dying of heart disease and cancers. We are constantly told the lockdown measures are for our safety - what about the safety of the much higher numbers of cardiovascular and cancer deaths?


Another questions I ponder is why we would vaccinate young people if they are highly unlikely to die from Covid-19 and in the majority of cases don't have any symptoms, but can still get and transmit Covid-19 even after being fully vaccinated anyway?


There is no doubt that the virus exists and that people die from it. But being constantly confronted with Covid-19 information spreads fear. All you hear on the news and read in the papers is about Covid-19 numbers. But people also die in much larger numbers from heart disease, cancers, and numerous other diseases - which we don't hear much about in the news. Imagine if there would be a news flash every time someone is diagnosed with cancer and it would constantly be talked about on TV - it would scare the living hell out of everyone!


When Covid-19 first started and all the horror messages came in from people dying in Italy etc. I was all for closing everything and protecting ourselves. Since then, however, we have learned much more about the virus and have all the statistics and studies that we did not have at the beginning. Now I think that we cannot close down everything every time we get a Covid-19 case. We need to find ways to learn to live with it. Otherwise we are creating problems in lots of other ways. Just look at what it does to our young generation. Is closing schools, locking our kids in, preventing them from seeing their friends and limiting their freedoms to travel etc. really the best for them? The psychological issues stemming from this are huge - there aren't enough counsellors and psychologists around to keep up with the current demand. Yes, we are protecting the old and vulnerable - but at the cost of the young?


It's hard to say what the right thing to do is - I don't have the answer. If you do, let me know!


Whatever your stance is on this topic - we have to make sure not to let our different views divide us - everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Whether you choose to get vaccinated or not, is completely up to you. Do what you feel is right for you and let everyone else do what's right for them. We are all in this together. Look at the statistics, learn from what happens in other countries, listen to both sides, decide for yourself - but do not let fear rule your life!




References:


https://www.statistik.at/web_en/press/125479.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7333368/

http://www.healthdata.org/austria

https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/cases-2019-ncov-eueea

https://covid19-vaccine-report.ecdc.europa.eu/

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1201038/coronavirus-covid-19-vaccinations-federal-state-austria/

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

http://www.statistik.at/web_de/statistiken/menschen_und_gesellschaft/gesundheit/todesursachen/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic_in_Austria

https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-austria-idUSL8N2PH1YE

https://www.politico.eu/article/vaccine-booster-coronavirus-covid-19-europe-delta-varian-who/

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/effectiveness/why-measure-effectiveness/breakthrough-cases.html

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/07/30/1022867219/cdc-study-provincetown-delta-vaccinated-breakthrough-mask-guidance

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7031e2.htm?s_cid=mm7031e2_w









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