The report on Covid-19 deaths will change

The Department of Health is changing the way Covid-19 deaths are reported, with the new measure being Covid-19 deaths that can be fully or partially attributed to the virus.

Deaths were previously included if the person had contracted Covid-19 within 28 days of death.

Public Health Agency deputy chief executive Dr Andrew Old said using the new measure it showed there were 1,252 deaths of New Zealanders where Covid was the underlying cause or contributing to the death.

He said the Department of Health was “moving away from reporting all people who died within 28 days of Covid-19 infection, to people who died due to Covid-19 infection or where it was recorded as a contributing factor”.

“The focus on reporting Covid-19 deaths will shift to cases where Covid-19 is either the underlying cause or a contributing cause of a death.”

They will also report on people in hospital where the main reason for their hospitalization is Covid-19, or with Covid-19 as a contributor.

“It’s a more meaningful metric,” he said.

He said Covid-19 was the cause of death or a contributing factor in two-thirds to three-quarters of those included in the previous measure.

There were 21 new deaths reported on Tuesday.

Professor Michael Baker was delighted that the department followed the reporting standard specified by the World Health Organization, which will allow meaningful comparisons between different countries and time periods.

“All health organizations and researchers want valid health statistics, that is, ones that measure what they intend to measure,” he said.

“This change will therefore increase the confidence we have in the validity of deaths attributed to Covid-19. I am pleased to see that all of our Covid-19 mortality data will be revised to incorporate this change, including current and previously reported figures.

He said the numbers are likely to continue to be underestimated, however.

“Covid-19 infection can lead to death from heart attacks and strokes and other causes that may not be attributed to this disease. We know that deaths from other infections such as influenza have always been vastly underestimated.Only about 5% of influenza-related deaths have this infection recorded as the cause of death.This problem is partly due to the way mortality reports have focused on the underlying cause. of death, so they tend to default to any major chronic illnesses a patient had, rather than the acute infections that contributed to their death at that time.”

Professor Michael Baker told the Science Media Center that “the pandemic highlights the complexity of ensuring that health data is as valid as possible and the need to continue to improve our methods”.

“It is likely that reports of Covid-19 deaths will continue to underestimate the numbers,” he said. “Covid-19 infection can lead to death from heart attacks and strokes and other causes that may not be attributed to this disease. We know that deaths from other infections such as influenza have always been vastly underestimated.”

Associate Professor Immunologist Dianne Sika-Paotonu said there was still “a lot of work to do at the moment with significant immunity gaps in Aotearoa New Zealand at the moment”.

“Masks, Covid-19 vaccines and good ventilation as part of education remain important for protection, especially for children, tamariki and tamaiti aged 5 to 11 and those who still need to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Many adults also still need their Covid-19 boosters as well.”

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