Covid claims 100 lives a day on average across the UK, statistics show

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Official statistics show Covid is claiming 100 lives a day on average across the UK.

But the figures tell only a fraction of the story.

Scientists and academics are looking at the profiles of those who are dying to see how they compare to previous waves.

So what do we know?

The age profile of those dying with Covid has changed

At the height of the second wave in January, the under-65s accounted for just 11% of deaths. In recent weeks, they accounted for about 25% of deaths.

The total number of deaths this time round is substantially lower, however. In the week to 13 August, 652 deaths were registered in the UK. In the week ending 22 January, the figure stood at 9,056.

Across the UK the proportion of deaths among over-65s has fallen in recent weeks compared with the January peak

Kevin McConway, Emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, points out that, of 571 Covid deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to 13 August, 7% were people under 50.

He notes that last time the UK exceeded 571 deaths in a week was in late March this year – and then only under 4% were aged under 50. Looking back further to mid-October 2020 – when overall death figures were roughly similar – under 2% of Covid-related deaths were of people aged under 50.

The reason older people are dying less frequently compared to previous waves is the effectiveness of the UK’s vaccination programme, which prioritised population cohorts by age.

If vaccine coverage was equal in all age groups, experts would expect to see the same proportion of almost all deaths from Covid in elderly people. But the younger age groups are not vaccinated at the same rate as older age groups and this is resulting in a relative increase in younger people dying.

“Last October, we had no vaccines, and in late March most people in the older age groups had been vaccinated but not necessarily with both doses. This increasing proportion of younger people among the Covid deaths clearly has a lot to do with vaccination,” he said.

“So, if the people dying weren’t getting younger, that would be really quite alarming.”

Being vaccinated does not mean you cannot die from Covid

Although there is overwhelming evidence that the vaccines are dramatically effective in preventing severe disease and death, they are not perfect.

Of the 1,189 deaths confirmed as Delta cases between 1 February and 15 August, about 57% had received their second jab at least two weeks previously, according to Public Health England.

As most of the adult population is now fully vaccinated – those who die are more likely to be vaccinated, explained Dr Kit Yates, a senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath.

Even if everyone were fully vaccinated, some people would still die – that doesn’t mean vaccines aren’t effective at reducing death.

Men are more at risk

Despite catching Covid at a relatively similar rate, men are still dying more than women, likely due to a mixture of biological and behavioural factors. Of the 571 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week up to 13 August, 59% were men.

A higher proportion of men died with Covid

Death rates will probably continue to rise

On Tuesday, 174 deaths were reported within 28 days of a positive test. Scientists expect case rates will jump again with schools and universities set to soon reopen – probably followed by a rise in death rates.

Although early UK data suggests antibody levels fall in the weeks and months after the second jab, it’s unclear what impact that has on the ability of the vaccines to protect against severe disease and death.

As such, says Prof Sheila Bird, formerly of the Medical Research Council’s biostatistics unit at Cambridge University, we must remain “vigilant and cautious”.

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