Alberta logged a “massive increase” in deaths from causes other than COVID-19 among youth during the pandemic, a recent study has found.
The conference abstract found excess mortality in Alberta from January 2020 to May 2021, meaning the number of deaths that took place in the province during that time was higher than would be expected when compared to death rates from 2015 to 2019.
During that time frame, there was an average of 248 monthly excess deaths in Alberta. That ranged from as few as 49 excess deaths in January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta, to as many as 781 excess deaths in December 2020.
Over those 17 months, 2,226 Albertans died of COVID-19, representing about 54 per cent of the 4,214 excess deaths in the province over that time period. And, younger Albertans made up a large share of those deaths.
“Increase in all-cause excess deaths was proportionately higher, and in significantly greater numbers, in the younger age groups,” the study read.
“Although older adults are more likely to die of COVID-19, there was massive increase in non-COVID-19 related mortality among the youth. These should be factored in public policy decisions on epidemic/pandemic management.”
The abstract was published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases and written by five Alberta Health Services officials.
AHS did not provide an interview with an official involved with the study in response to a Postmedia request.
In addition to the excess deaths linked to COVID-19, the study found there were 731 excess drug poisoning deaths during the period, representing about 18 per cent of the excess deaths.
That leaves 28 per cent of excess deaths which the study suggested are likely due to “other factors such as limited access to urgent medical care.”
Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, an assistant professor in general internal medicine at the University of Calgary, reviewed the study. He said he believes the scale of excess death is a product of Alberta’s pandemic approach.
“It’s a cumulative number that represents many public health decisions,” Fabreau said, adding the finding around excess death among younger Albertans was striking.
“Young people are not supposed to die. I don’t think you need to be a scientist to know that. So when you see a very large proportion of excess deaths, a rise in excess death that’s much higher proportionately in younger populations than in the elders, it speaks to how deadly COVID was, but also the opioid epidemic and finally just what’s happening to our health-care system.”
Fabreau, also a general internist at the Peter Lougheed Centre, said hospitals continue to face intense pressures, driven both by a surge in patients and a shortage of health-care workers.
The doctor said this latest excess mortality study aligns with previous research, including from the University of Toronto’s Dr. Tara Moriarty.
He added the problem isn’t unique to Alberta, with excess mortality documented across Canada during the pandemic.
Excess mortality rates can be used as a way to measure the direct and indirect toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Statistics Canada.
That agency’s most recent data found there were 6,532 excess deaths in Alberta between January 2020 and the first week of February 2022. To date, 4,321 Albertans have died of COVID-19.