It was the second half of 2021 before most Australians received the vaccine. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS

10,000 excess deaths claim is pure fantasy

William Summers January 23, 2024

Australia had 10,000 more deaths than the monthly average in May 2021.


False. About 1300 more deaths occurred in May 2021 than during the same month in the five years prior to COVID.

A COVID-19 vaccine sceptic claims Australia recorded 10,000 excess deaths in May 2021 – and suggests the additional deaths occurred following the start of the rollout of vaccines.

The claim is false. Australia did not record anywhere near 10,000 additional deaths in May 2021.

A total of 15,040 people died of all causes in Australia in May 2021 (Table 4.1, column F), according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

That compares with an average of 13,697 people dying during May in each of the five calendar years prior to the COVID pandemic (2015 to 2019 inclusive).

This means that in May 2021, 1343 more people died than would be expected from the 2015-2019 average.

ABS data shows deaths in Australia in May, 2021, were not 10,000 above average for the month.

The claim in question was made by Jason Miles, a former federal senate candidate who has been fact-checked on vaccine misinformation before (see here, here and here).

In a Facebook post published on January 6, (archived here), Mr Miles pointed to a news story about COVID vaccines published in May 2021 and wrote: "An article from 1 May 2021. The same month an extra 10,000 Aussies died over and above the normal amount of deaths. When did the rollout begin? April 2021."

Researchers often use the term 'excess mortality' to describe the difference between the total number of deaths from all causes during a specified period and the number of deaths expected in that period based on previous years.

Excess death figures are commonly used by researchers to assess the full impacts of the COVID pandemic on mortality because they help account for undiagnosed COVID deaths and other deaths indirectly related to the pandemic.

A simple measure of excess mortality during May 2021 can be calculated by comparing the number of deaths recorded that month against the number of deaths recorded in the same month of previous years.

Using this method, it could be said that Australia recorded 1343 excess or additional deaths during May 2021, when compared to the pre-COVID five-year May average.

However, the raw number of additional deaths in any given period doesn't account for changes in the size and age structures of a population over time.

For example, in 2021, the Australian population was larger than in previous years and had an older average age, both factors that would normally be associated with more deaths.

More sophisticated measures of excess deaths factor in changes to population sizes and age structures over time.

Adjusted excess death estimates for Australia are regularly published by a COVID mortality working group at the Actuaries Institute, an Australian professional membership body.

Working group member Karen Cutter, who worked as a consulting actuary in the general insurance sector for 25 years, told AAP FactCheck that when taking into account population and demographic changes, the working group estimated there were around 650 excess deaths in Australia in May 2021.

Facebook post
 The post claims an extra 10,000 Australians died "over and above" the usual number of deaths. 

Mr Miles's claim that Australia's vaccine rollout began in April 2021 is also misleading.

In the vaccine rollout, frontline healthcare workers, aged care residents and quarantine staff were among priority groups eligible for vaccines from February 22, 2021.

Other priority groups including adults aged over 70 years and younger people with underlying health conditions were eligible from March 22 that year.

By the end of April 2021, around 2.2 million doses had been administered.

Australia's population was approximately 25.7 million people at the time, meaning around one in 12 Australians were vaccinated by the end of April 2021.

Expanded eligibility for the general population of adults over 50 did not begin until May 3, 2021. Younger age groups were invited for vaccination from May 2021 onward, with eligibility rules varying by state (p91).

The Actuaries Institute's COVID mortality working group calculated that throughout 2021, around one per cent or around 2,000 more Australians died than would have been expected had there been no pandemic.

August 2023 was the first month since September 2021 in which Australia had no excess deaths, the group reported in October 2023.

The Verdict

The claim that Australia recorded 10,000 excess deaths in May 2021 is false.

A total of 15,040 people died in Australia in May 2021, which was 1343 more deaths than the 2015-2019 May average.

When factoring in population changes and Australia's ageing population, experts calculated there were around 650 excess deaths in May 2021, when compared to previous years.

False - The claim is inaccurate.

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