by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 18
February 2021
Chart
11:28

Why we don’t tolerate Covid deaths among the over 70s

New research shows that there’s much more life to live even at that age
by Peter Franklin

That we’re all getting older — not only as individuals, but as societies — will not come as any surprise. Nevertheless, the demographic details are fascinating.

For a very readable review of research into the rise of longevity, this paper, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, comes highly recommended. James Vaupel and his fellow authors show how improvements in mortality are happening at all advanced ages from 80 through to 95 (and beyond in some countries). In other words, it’s not a case of just about getting people through their eighties only for them to drop like flies in their early nineties.

Furthermore, increased longevity is more than a generational effect — i.e. old people today aren’t living longer just because they’ve their lives have been easier than the old people of previous generations. Also important is that things are getting better for old people when they’re old. A particularly interesting piece of evidence is what happened in Germany following re-unification:

Before 1990, people in East Germany suffered higher death rates than people in West Germany. After unification, the East German disadvantage at ages above 65 rapidly disappeared. This quasi-experimental evidence demonstrates that even very old people can benefit from improved conditions.
- James Vaupel et. al, PNAS

But surely there has to be some sort of boundary — a point at which no level of improved healthcare can keep the grim reaper at bay? Those who believe that there’s a hard limit to human longevity point to the example of Jeanne Calment, the French woman who died at the age of 122 in 1997. The fact that we’re approaching the 25th anniversary of her death without anyone breaking her record would suggest that we’ve gone about as far as we can go in this life.

However, Calment’s lifespan is such an extreme occurrence, that, statistically, one would expect a record like that to remain unbroken for a long-time — even against a background in which more and more people are becoming centenarians and super-centenarians.

A hard limit to the maximum extant of extreme old age doesn’t mean that we won’t see merely very old age becoming the norm. Indeed, the authors show how that the increase in life expectancy at birth goes hand-in-hand with an increase in life span equality. In other words, everyone gets to share in the longevity dividend, not just the most privileged members of society.

In specific cases where that doesn’t happen — for instance, America’s opioid epidemic — it’s a sure sign something has gone horribly wrong.

Speaking of which, we can’t talk about human mortality without mentioning the Covid pandemic. Around the world we’ve seen societies make extraordinary sacrifices to contain a disease which disproportionately kills the elderly. It’s hard to imagine earlier eras doing so much to protect their oldest members.

But then, in earlier eras, people didn’t live as long. “Three-score-years-and-ten” marked a limit that has now been erased. The idea that the Covid is mostly killing people who were ‘about to die anyway’ is one of the biggest myths of pandemic. To die at 70 because someone couldn’t be bothered to wear a mask is, most likely, to be robbed of years — perhaps decades — of life.

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David Slade
David Slade
1 year ago

If you want to reverse the trend of longevity, carry on reordering your society around this virus and destroying the economy; also throw in a dystopian hell on earth that you normalise as business as usual to remove everyone’s incentive to live.

That’s the irony of what we’re doing. That’s why this article misses the point.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

so we are at least recognizing, at long last, that this virus is not the existential threat some claim it to be, that the bulk of its victims are, in fact, elderly people with other health issues. But, no fear; the current approach of fear and lockdowns will spread death among younger people, too, since economic harm tends to manifest as harm to health.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Yes economic harm is vastly underrated. Look at the shipbuilding communities, mining and steel plus others, the closures of which caused huge socio-economic problems and health issues that have still never been addressed. Wish more people had been more vocal at the time.

David Smy
David Smy
1 year ago

As a member of the 70+ group I have been conflicted in my thoughts as to what should have been done in this pandemic to, essentially, protect the elderly. It is right to say that many of us now enjoy our later years far more than did our predecessors. But the economic and social cost has been too great. It became clear quite early on that this virus predominantly targeted the elderly but billions have been spent on closing down our economy and our lives rather than spending a fraction of that creating reasonable protection for those most at risk. I wouldn’t like to catch COVID, even worse die from it, but currently we are all existing rather than living. This situation stems from the terror every Western Government has of being found guilty by the court of MSM for not eliminating every risk to its people without expecting its citizens to take any form of personal responsibility.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
1 year ago
Reply to  David Smy

No. People (even MPs like Charles Walker) have missed the real point consistently. The point of lockdowns, etc, is not to save lives. It is to prevent health services from being overwhelmed. This is the same the world over, whether health services are privately or publicly funded. The point is that, for every one who dies, there are dozens more who will be sick enough to need hospital treatment – and for some time. Hospitals rapidly become unworkable under such conditions, with sick people piling up in corridors and ambulances unable to unload patients and make themselves available for new emergencies.
This means loads of other health services have to stop. We have seen a lot of that anyway, but imagine how much worse it would be with a stream of patients at 4 or 5 times the current rate. And that would happen, as the eventual reduction under lockdown conditions has proved.
The eventual death rate would be higher, too, but it isn’t the foremost consideration.

Derek M
Derek M
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

That’s an unproven hypothesis, places that don’t lockdown have no more had their health system overwhelmed than those that do

danielhurt95
danielhurt95
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Well yes, this is the stated goal, but the empirical evidence for it is extremely weak. Just compare California vs. Florida over the last few months for an instructive example, or the many international studies that find limited effectiveness to most restrictions.
Besides that, overwhelmed hospitals doesn’t mean bodies piled up in the street or mass death, especially given it would be for a short period of time. Most people admitted to hospital would not die if they were treated at home instead and, to be honest, so many people are admitted to hospital unnecessarily anyway, especially people with advanced dementia who would be better served by remaining in a familiar environment instead of invasive treatment to eke a few more days or weeks. It’s all about thinking on the margin.

Last edited 1 year ago by danielhurt95
David Dreebin
David Dreebin
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

I also generally agree with David Smy rather than with yourself, although our NHS came very close to being overwhelmed during April 2020 (in the first lockdown) and in early to mid-January this year. However, I think we have, thankfully, got past that stage now. Especially with nearly half of the UK adult population having had their first dose of the vaccine now, which means that those in that category are now unlikely to become seriously ill with the virus.
I’m not in favour of trying to ‘lock away’ older people, which the current article defines as being over 70, especially as I’m only 4 years away from that milestone myself. However, in most instances, there should be less strict legislation and more trust in people to keep their distance physically from others and to wear a face mask in indoor settings (away from their own home). The government’s current roadmap is quite reasonable, actually, but I think that up to six should be able to meet outdoors at the same time as schools reopening; also, I think that cafes and restaurants should be able to open, providing they have taken an adequate risk assessment (which the vast majority will have done), slightly earlier than the announced date of May 17th (indoors, I mean, as many do not even have outdoor areas).

David J
David J
1 year ago

I’m 74 yo and starting a new publishing enterprise, so I don’t take kindly to the vile ageism that seems endemic to certain sections of society.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
1 year ago
Reply to  David J

Here here.

Epicurus Araraxia
Epicurus Araraxia
1 year ago
Reply to  David J

Nor, David, should you ignore the enormous impact that the lockdown measures have had on the young. While it is morally right that we, as a society, should have taken all reasonable precautions to protect the elderly and vulnerable, is it right that the means of doing so amounted to displacing the harm to the 50+ million healthy people under 65 in the UK who are at near-zero levels of risk from Covid-19?
We have achieved the worst of both worlds. We have a large number of “excess deaths” AND we have economic and social devastation that impacts the young disproportionally.
The legacy that you’re leaving for generations to come is an enormous debt, record levels of unemployment that are sure to hit us as soon as furlough is ended, a tsunami of undiagnosed cancers and other conditions, and an NHS backlog that is breaking records. You’ll be long gone and people will still be suffering the effects of the damage done by quarantining the healthy, a measure that has never been used in any situation less extreme than bubonic plague or viruses like Ebola and Marburg that kill 60 to 80% of the infected. This is not Ebola, and it’s not an existential threat to humanity, but the WHO and governments everywhere have elevated it to the same status and they have not adjusted course once it became clear that Covid-19 is serious, but not in any way a threat to the survival of our species.
If we continue to disregard the bigger picture and continue indefinitely with virtual house-arrest of the healthy population, not only will it NOT save lives, it will utterly destroy Britain. We must, of course, continue to do our collective best to minimise the harm to the elderly, but we urgently need to reopen everything. We’re destroying everything that makes life worth living. There’s more to life than merely being alive.

David Dreebin
David Dreebin
1 year ago

Since you wrote your comment, Epicurus, there has been a ‘roadmap’ set up by the government 12 days ago, so there is some light at the end of the tunnel now. But do you think that each stage, after schools reopening on the 8th March, is scheduled to happen too late? From your last 3 sentences, I assume you do think that. I think that in some instances it is too cautious, and we are in danger of destroying large parts of the hospitality sector due to some restaurants, cafes and pubs ‘going under’ and not being able to reopen.

bob.moore
bob.moore
1 year ago
Reply to  David J

You are right. There is vile ageism against the youth of our countries. And I’m 50.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
1 year ago
Reply to  bob.moore

Just like the two world wars which we constantly ulogise.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
1 year ago
Reply to  David J

Oh on this forum you are a parasite if over the age of 70. You’ve had your three score and ten. Hop it!!!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

And on this forum an all too frequent technique of ‘arguing’ a point – on all sides – is to set up ridiculous straw man propositions such as yours! No one has said this and you have no evidence anyone thinks it.

I’m open to persuasion and evidence, but an alternative approach once we knew more about covid’s characteristics, would have been to give every support to elderly and others who wished to shield, including financial, logistical – food deliveries etc – and suitable accommodation where needed. No country seems to have tried this. Maybe it would have been a logistical challenge, but such an approach should not simply been dismissed. It seems sometimes as if to some people compulsorily locking down 67 million people is preferable to shielding 15 million!! I suppose that is the socialist way…..

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
jill dowling
jill dowling
1 year ago

A 70 year old’s health is very different to an eighty-five year old’s.
Also why do we not tolerate elderly deaths yet accept cancer which kills 400 humans a day randomly – young people and children whose lives have hardly begun?

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
1 year ago
Reply to  jill dowling

My father is just as mobile (and compos mentis) at 84 as he was at 70.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
1 year ago

You’re wasting your breath here. I agree with you but there is a worrying trend on here that if you are old or less than perfect then you don’t deserve to live.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Good for him, and his health and welfare should be protected as far as is reasonable, but not at all costs. He isn’t going to live for ever, any more than is is my 92 year old – also compos mentis mother. Their deaths are much less of a tragedy than would be that of a young person whose life is before him or her.

David Dreebin
David Dreebin
1 year ago

My father is quite mobile and is certainly compos mentis at the age of 94. And also not all that much different from when he was 70.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
1 year ago
Reply to  jill dowling

It isn’t random. It too is much more common as people age.

Tom Jennings
Tom Jennings
1 year ago
Reply to  jill dowling

We seem to be quite tolerent of death later in life. The use of Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALY) seems to be purpose built to speed up the departure of the elderly. At the other extreme, we seem to be quite tolerent of abortion and increasingly, euthanasia.

Elaine Hunt
Elaine Hunt
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Jennings

Well, we might as well ‘tolerate’ death in old age, because it is inescapable.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
1 year ago
Reply to  jill dowling

We don’t accept cancer. Do you? We spend vast sums of money on cancer research. No-one accepts cancer any more than any other illness. Not sure what your point is. It’s not a question of tolerating 85 Yr old deaths – it’s the impact on health services. It’s the hospital admissions not deaths that is the problem. If this illness took people in their sleep quickly and quietly (and I mean the oldies) there would be no major panic. Your post makes no sense.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
1 year ago

“The idea that the Covid is mostly killing people who were ‘about to die anyway’ is one of the biggest myths of pandemic. To die at 70 because someone couldn’t be bothered to wear a mask is, most likely, to be robbed of years — perhaps decades — of life.”
What nonsense!

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

Masks save lives, it’s clear as day. Look at the the effects of large scale mask wearing on the UK, since masks were introduced last July we’ve had no severe Covid outbreaks – oh, and it’s worked… no where.
On a more serious note how about “To die at 70 you almost certainly had other well known high risk factors, you should have avoided contact inside with people as much as possible, instead believing that wearing a face mask would really protect you, you ventured out shopping for the 5th time that week. Everyone was wearing masks, including people who knew they were ill, but they believed the mask made them safe – you catch it and die, or just as likely you caught it in hospital where massive precautions are taken”.
Covid 19, kills mainly old people – and is mainly harmless to children. So in response we basically lock up kids.

Last edited 1 year ago by LUKE LOZE
Nikita Kubanovs
Nikita Kubanovs
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

Couldn’t agree more, considering the average age of a COVID death is 1 year greater than the average life expectancy in the UK. Where he’s getting decades from we will never know.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

I’m afraid you have just demonstrated the misunderstanding of life expectancy statistics that this piece is all about.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

Yes, that mask paragraph was pure nonsense. I regretted even reading that far.

Bits Nibbles
Bits Nibbles
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Hanson

I agree. The conflation between being 70 years old and being in poor health is staggering.

Mark H
Mark H
1 year ago

For my parents and grandparents, the years from 60-75 were arguably the best of their adult lives. The combination of good health, leisure time, and financial stability meant they could spend those year pretty much as they pleased.
From 75 increasing health problem have slowed them down but even at 80 years old 3/4 of them had a life worth living.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mark H
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

I am marching on steadily in years and do not want or expect young people to stay isolated and compromise their futures because I am technically more vulnerable. If you are older or have co-morbidities and feel threatened, then you should be the one being more careful. If you are younger, get back to work and to school and have more of a life. Build the economies which ultimately serve all of society.

Last edited 1 year ago by Lesley van Reenen
bob.moore
bob.moore
1 year ago

This is so right. I’m 50 myself and 100% agree with you. How arrogant do you have to be to expect everyone else to lock themselves up so you can live a full life? It’s mind boggling.

Frances Frances
Frances Frances
1 year ago

I agree, Lesley. We’re in the “vulnerable” category because of age (and that came as a shock, let me tell you), but I am completely unwilling to have the state pursue an elusive “safety net” for me at the expense of the future of younger generations. And, for that matter, a “safe” existence without grandbrat hugs is not living.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
1 year ago

Me too. I agree.
I’m 68 tomorrow and believe we can all look after ourselves.
Don’t lock the country up on my behalf – if I don’t know how to stay healthy by now, on my head be it.
Tread lightly on the NHS but give the government a good kicking!

danielhurt95
danielhurt95
1 year ago

“The idea that the Covid is mostly killing people who were ‘about to die anyway’ is one of the biggest myths of pandemic.”
This is a false, and debunked here:
https://avalonecon.com/moving-beyond-lives-saved-from-covid-19/
In short, the people dying with Covid have an average of 3-5 years of life left. Given that a large proportion of deaths have been in nursing homes (where life expectancy is <1 year) this makes sense.
“To die at 70 because someone couldn’t be bothered to wear a mask is, most likely, to be robbed of years — perhaps decades — of life.”
Maybe they should have stayed at home if they were so frightened. No one is forcing them to see people who choose not to wear masks.

Last edited 1 year ago by danielhurt95
Robert Forde
Robert Forde
1 year ago
Reply to  danielhurt95

Or stayed in their care home? Safe? LOL. And see my previous note re health services.
Then there’s the 10% of Covid victims (according to the ONS) who experience long term and possibly permanent disability. I am 72, and had long Covid last year. I survived, and don’t think there are permanent after-effects, but I had symptoms for 9 months. Possibly, that’s because I had no other health problems. Plenty of people much younger than I have suffered worse. Some will never recover fully. My daughter (aged 46) had to shield because of an auto-immune disorder; the combination could be fatal, or “merely” disabling.
The comment often attributed to Demonic Cummings that “if a few pensioners die that’s tough”, is not simply psychopathically callous. It is also factually incorrect.

danielhurt95
danielhurt95
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Care homes have done a truly pathetic job at protecting their residents, not helped by foolish hospital discharge policies early in the pandemic.
The vast majority of that 10% experience symptoms for only a few weeks and quite mildly (fatigue, loss of smell). The number of people with genuinely debilitating long covid is tiny, and utterly dwarfed by the 65 million people in the UK alone who have had their lives turned upside down by lockdown, business closures, school closure and other restrictions with mind-boggling short and long-term effects. The impact of ‘long lockdown’ will make long covid look even more trivial than it is.

David Dreebin
David Dreebin
1 year ago
Reply to  danielhurt95

Generally agree with you, but what about the over 70s (or with underlying health conditions) who need to go shopping in a supermarket and, for whatever reason, do not have the technology or technical know-how to do their shopping online or do not have anyone more able-bodied to get their shopping for them?

Last edited 1 year ago by David Dreebin
Derek M
Derek M
1 year ago

To die at 70 because someone couldn’t be bothered to wear a mask” Fundamentally dishonest and totally fatuous

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek M

I never wear a mask anywhere, although virtually everyone else does. I do it as a protest of destroying the Western economies which will hand a huge portion of the world to china, and ultimately ourselves too. (and destroying so very many small business owners, and fragile people, and the entire education system, and low skilled jobs).

It would be so much easier to wear the mask when inside shops, but I refuse on principals, I refuse to propagate ‘Project Fear’. The feeling one gets is uncomfortable, a one of disdain from those around, but I will not wear one because I will not join in this destruction of the world as we know it.

A wonderful video is on youtube called Piter Hitchens walks away from the mob – Maskless as he always is, he is with me, and the small group of non-maskers, and I am glad to see him refusing the mask although it meant an entire mob of hostile youth fallowing and chanting at him in a quite intimidating way.

Epicurus Araraxia
Epicurus Araraxia
1 year ago

We should not be flippant about the lives of the elderly, but the argument that it’s the young people who are being “selfish” by wanting to live their lives normally is disingenuous.
It’s mainly in the wealthy nations of the world that the age-related mortality due to Covid-19 is seen. Poorer nations are experiencing a greater spread of ages amongst the victims of Covid-19.
Until 2020, we noted that respiratory viruses kill tens of thousands of (mostly elderly) people in the UK. A peak of deaths and the NHS being under pressure is something that has occurred every year around January for a very long time. Until 2020, we considered that to be an acceptable risk.
Why then is Covid-19 being treated differently? In the UK, the victims are mostly the same demographic that ‘flu and pneumonia have been killing for as long as anyone can remember. Why have we treated this as “the biggest disaster since WWI”? In our panic to “protect the NHS” even the government acknowleges that 2 out of every 5 people in the “excess deaths” of 2020 did not die of Covid-19, hence they were “Lockdown deaths”. Out of 100 000 deaths, that means that 40 000 died because of the Lockdown.
Thus, we have to question whether the “whatever it takes” approach did, in fact “save lives”. Would we have been in a better position overall if the UK governments (Westminster and Devolved) had done next to nothing at all? What we have is the worst of both worlds. We have both the large number of “excess deaths” AND we have unemployment, destroyed businesses, disrupted education and widespread mental health impacts.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
1 year ago

Being past seventy I know that it is a rare person that does not get to that age without the grim reaper making a call to announce that he is about. Most of us get past that but we know things are different now. My contemporaries are far more worried about becoming immobile and falling victim to dementia than to covid. Losing one’s mind is the real horror. We look around and know that the old truth remains. After 4 score years everything is bleak, For most of us. I am grateful for each day.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

This article entirely ignores the important fact that while people are living longer, their healthy and independent life spans are much shorter than their chronological ones.

Many elderly people go through an endless series of medical procedures, or they get persuaded to more to often entirely unsatisfactory care homes, and / or they impose huge burdens on their often resentful families, who after all have their own families and lives to lead.

Living for as many years as you possibly can isn’t my idea of a life objective, and I know many elderly people agree.

By the way, there is very poor evidence for masks, so perhaps a better ending comment for Peter Franklin might have been ‘because their relatives could not be bothered refraining from hugging them’. Vaccines are not 100% effective and so don’t remove the dilemma of safety at all costs versus any form of maintaining normal social and economic life’s which we need to get back to for our health and sanity.

Key Olney
Key Olney
1 year ago

The case of Calment has been identified as fraud in order to continue to collect on an annuity. The mother died and the daughter took on her identity. Obviously, not a reason to increase longevity research.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 year ago
Reply to  Key Olney

It has been alleged to be fraud, but many researchers believe it to be true.

Mark Bailey
Mark Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Key Olney

The fraud claim has been comprehensively debunked. Unsurprising really, as it was based on unevidenced assertions.

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago
Reply to  Key Olney

I’m so old that I can remember the Soviet era stories of guys (usually in slightly exotic places up in the Caucasus) living to be 140+. Some unkind people suggested that this was a glorious benefit of assuming the identity of much older men to dodge military service back in Czarist days.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

Too many people have been interpreting “underlying conditions” as meaning “at death’s door”, as if these people are expendable. This couldn’t be more wrong.

Elaine Hunt
Elaine Hunt
1 year ago

“No one is expendable” – but some people are more vulnerable than others, because they are already weakened . That’s not a value judgement, it’s just a fact.

I don’t think it is reprehensible to believe that we should prioritise the welfare of those people who have the best chance of long term survival, the young and the fit , who are also those on whom society is going to depend .

There seems to be a sort of knee jerk reaction to any suggestion that someone with diabetes, or heart disease, or indeed dementia might be less likely to survive a debilitating illness than someone in good health is tantamount to suggesting putting them down like an old dog! I don’t think that that is the case; certainly in my personal experience, living wills which pleaded for lack of intervention in serious and possibly terminal illness were blithely ignored by the medical professionals. Euthanasia, no chance.

Elaine Hunt
Elaine Hunt
1 year ago
Reply to  Elaine Hunt

Jerk is not masturbation oh moderator! It refers to testing for reflexes by hitting the leg just below the knee.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Elaine Hunt

Absolutely! A greater risk of dying is almost a definition of poor health. Some of these differences are genetic, ‘unfair’ but inevitable. Others may be influenced by life styles which individuals have some control over. I’m a moderate drinker (as well as enjoying some outdoor activities with an element of risk). If you could prove to me that my life expectancy would be, say, 3 years longer if I gave up drinking, I’d choose to continue drinking.

Michael G
Michael G
1 year ago

I think we will tolerate COVID deaths, just as we do tolerate that you may die of cancer as a 30yo, but more likely as a 70yo. We just do not tolerate the quantity… yet.

Derek M
Derek M
1 year ago

To die at 70 because someone couldn’t be bothered to wear a mask”