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New Comparative Research on COVID-19 Related Mortality From the University of Southern Denmark

by Jana Vobecká

Professor James Vaupel, a demographer from the Interdisciplinary Centre on Population Dynamics at the University of Southern Denmark, received a research grant to study consequences of COVID-19 related mortality.

In this new project, Vaupel and his team will study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on survival and mortality across different population groups and countries. They will produce estimates of death directly and indirectly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The focus will be on analyzing daily excess mortality and to produce estimates of how many life-years were lost by those dying directly or indirectly from COVID-19.

The project has two main research strands:

  • The first focuses on Denmark: beyond the estimates of excess death and life-years lost for the whole country, the project will look at the spread and control of Covid-19 in Danish municipalities. It will also focus on spread within households, including collective living in nursing homes. Use of individual data will permit analysis of excess mortality and life-years lost by socio-economic status, which is a major concern because COVID-19 may widen social disparities in length of life.
  • The second research strand compares Denmark with Sweden, Norway, Italy and Spain. This will permit analysis of the effectiveness of alternative policy responses on the two key measures analyzed by the project —number of deaths and number of life-years lost, directly or indirectly due to COVID-19.

“We will develop radically different strategies to estimate excess deaths directly and indirectly due to COVID-19. The problem is so important and complicated that more than one method for estimating excess deaths should be developed and tested,” stresses James Vaupel and further specifies his plans: “The basic method used by infectious disease epidemiologists makes strong assumptions about functional forms—using, for instance, sine curves and quantities raised to 2/3 powers—and requires estimation of many parameters. We will pursue more flexible, less restrictive methods based on our work on penalized splines, on Seasonally adjusted AutoRegressive Integrated Moving Average (SARIMA) modeling, on models of mortality in heterogeneous populations, and on methods for forecasting age-specific death rates.”

Professor Vaupel will lead an interdisciplinary team of 14 researchers, including demographers, epidemiologists, economists, statisticians, and political scientists during a three-year project starting in June 2020. The project is supported by ROCKWOOL Foundation.