Apr 12, 2021
JERUSALEM WEATHER

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With more than 500,000 Americans dying from the COVID-19 pandemic, life expectancy – the most elementary measure of a population’s health – in the US has dropped shockingly by one year on average, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. 

It was the largest drop since World War II and a grim measure of the deadly consequences of Coronavirus. This erased the slight recovery in 2018 and 2019 following the decline in US life expectancy caused by overdoses of opiates and other drugs. The mortality rate due to the devastating pandemic was disproportionately higher among American blacks and Hispanics. Lower socioeconomic groups who live in more crowded homes and have little money to protect them have suffered more from the pandemic in countries around the world. 

Although Israel’s population of over nine million people has suffered significantly from COVID-19, its life expectancy has declined much less than in the US and most advanced. other countries. This is explained partly by the fact that the ratio of young-to-old is much higher in Israel than in most developed countries. In addition, the successful import of Pfizer vaccines against COVID-10, available free to all Israelis aged 16 and over (younger children are expected to be vaccinated during the summer months), its excellent community-based health maintenance organizations and the speedy learning curve of hospital staffers have significantly lowered death rates in the last few months. 

A new, 10,000-word study at the Taub Center for Social Studies Research in Jerusalem that was conducted by social demographer Prof. Alex Weinreb provides estimates of the decline in life-expectancy in this country for 2020. 

The data show that after accounting for population growth, the number of deaths in Israel – the number of people who have died over and above the number expected in the absence of Covid-19 – has increased by about 7%. But when also accounting for the reduction in mortality that was expected, the increase is about 10%. From early September to early October, Israel’s overall mortality rate rose to a level last observed in the 1990s, when life expectancy was about four years lower than it is today. 

Overall, wrote Weinreb, the excess mortality rate in Israel is lower than would be expected given the population’s age structure and patterns of coronavirus infection among Israelis. It will result in a decrease of about two months in life expectancy at birth and a decrease of almost three months in life expectancy at age 65. 

As in the US, the high rates of infection and mortality affected groups at a lower socioeconomic level and with more children and more-crowded conditions – ultra-Orthodox Jews (haredim) and Arab Israelis, who for at least some of the time were less likely to observe government-ordered lockdowns and guidelines on masks and social distancing. 

One positive effect due to mask wearing and social distancing mandated by state guidelines was certainly welcome: It reduced the incidence of other communicable diseases, in particular respiratory diseases. There have, for example, been almost no influenza deaths during the 2020– 2021 winter season.

From early September to early October, Israel’s overall death rate rose to a level last observed in the 1990s, when life expectancy was about four years lower than it is today. Overall, the excess mortality rate in Israel is lower than would be expected given the population’s age structure and patterns of coronavirus infection among Israelis. It will result in a decrease of about two months in life expectancy at birth and a decrease of almost three months in life expectancy at age 65. The high rates of infection and mortality among haredim and Arab Israelis will result in a more substantial increase in excess mortality in these population groups and a sharper decline in their life expectancy.

Identifying death rates from the Coronavirus is a rather challenging task, noted Weinreb – Taub’s research director –as it is difficult to ascertain whether the virus was the primary cause of death, a contributing factor or a background characteristic and whether the patient was already on the brink of death (or whether, in the absence of the virus s/he would have lived for many more years). Another challenge is to distinguish between the direct and indirect effects of the virus on mortality – such as diverting most of the healthcare system’s resources to address the pandemic and away from treating and preventing other medical conditions. 

In the new study, it is clear that while Israeli mortality has been declining for years, there has been a slowdown in the decrease, most likely arising from the increasing prevalence of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and obesity. But in early 2020, the situation looked quite different – during the first two months of the year, mortality rates in Israel were at their lowest ever – fewer than 11 deaths per 100,000 population per week – a decrease of 7% compared to the same period during the years 2017 to 2019. 

The effect of the coronavirus on mortality rates was first felt at the end of March and became particularly notable from the beginning of July through the end of September. Yet it is important to note that between these waves of high pandemic mortality, rates returned to lower levels than those registered in 2017 to 2019. 

Weinreb found that in age groups over 55, mortality rates were particularly low in the first two months of the year, especially among those ages 65 and older. Mortality rates in these groups rose from mid-March to mid-July to the levels observed in 2017 to 2019, and from there continued to rise to uncharacteristic heights, particularly among 65- to 74-year-olds. 

“It’s important to remember that the flu epidemic in 2015 also reduced life expectancy in most European countries by more than three months, even in countries with good healthcare systems,” explained Weinreb. “A two-month decline in life expectancy in 2020 due to the coronavirus is therefore a relatively moderate decline, though we don’t yet know what to expect from 2021, as the mortality rate in the last two months has been unusually high. However, it is important to understand that wearing masks and maintaining social distance helps reduce the transmission of other diseases, as evidenced by the very low number of influenza cases this winter.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has far-reaching effects on all areas of life in Israel has substantially increased excess mortality. A two- to three-month decline in life expectancy, as Prof. Weinreb found, is significant, but smaller than the decline observed in other countries and in such Israel has achieved a certain degree of success,” said Taub Center president Prof. Avi Weiss.

The psychological damage to the unemployed and those whose businesses closed down due to the pandemic – which undoubtedly resulted in physical illness such as heart disease, obesity, hypertension and even suicides – were not including in the Taub Center study, as analyzing these repercussions of COVID-19 will take months and even years to present themselves. 

The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel is an independent, non-partisan socioeconomic research institute, providing decision makers and the public with research and findings on some of the most critical issues facing Israel in the areas of education, health, welfare, labor markets and economic policy in order to impact the decision-making process in Israel and to advance the well-being of all Israelis.

 

 

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