OECD research shows Ireland avoided excess deaths during core pandemic years 

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Stephen Donnelly
Stephen Donnelly
Prof Breda Smyth

OECD research has shown that Ireland had no excess deaths during the core pandemic years of 2020-2022.

Research published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that Ireland was one of nine OECD countries to avoid excess deaths during this period, registering the fourth lowest rate behind New Zealand, Iceland and Norway.

Excess deaths refers to the number of deaths from all causes during a period of time, above what would normally be expected. The OECD measured the difference between the number of people who died between 2020 and 2022 and the number of people who would have been expected to die during that time, if the pandemic had not happened. Excess death figures include those who died from COVID-19 without having been tested as well as from other illnesses. 

Excess deaths is considered a very objective metric and scientists say it is the most reliable measure of the total impact of the pandemic during these years.  

Previous estimates of excess deaths during the pandemic did not take into account changes in population size and demographics.

The OECD reviewed the methodology used to calculate excess deaths and accounted for demographic trends in each country.

Ireland’s total population increased by 8% between the 2016 and 2022 census, while the number of people aged 65 and over increased by 22% during the same period. This is more than double the 10% increase in the EU 27 countries in the same time period.

Adjusting mortality rates to take account of these changes has shown that Ireland did not record excess mortality during 2020-2022.  In fact, Ireland had a lower than expected death rate. 

Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly said, “I am very pleased that Ireland’s excess mortality during the core pandemic years was the fourth lowest among OECD countries. Ireland asked a lot of its population during this time and the restrictions that were put in place had a profound impact on us all.  These figures point to the success of Ireland’s public health measures, and to the strong uptake of our COVID-19 vaccination programme.”

Chief Medical Officer Prof. Breda Smyth said, “The OECD Working Paper highlights some of the important caveats associated with previously published estimates on excess mortality during the core pandemic years. The population in Ireland demonstrated a strong adherence to public health measures during this time, and Ireland’s COVID-19 vaccination programme has been one of the most successful in the world, with 96% of the adult population receiving their primary vaccinations.”