COVID-19 is much less deadly in the non-elderly population than previously thought, a major new study of antibody prevalence surveys has concluded. The study was led by Dr. John Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Stanford University, who famously sounded an early warning on March 17th 2020 with a widely-read article in Stat News, presciently arguing that “we are making decisions without reliable data” and “with lockdowns of months, if not years, life largely stops, short-term and long-term consequences are entirely unknown, and billions, not just millions, of lives may be eventually at stake”.
In the new study, which is currently undergoing peer-review, Prof. Ioannidis and colleagues found that across 31 national seroprevalence studies in the pre-vaccination era, the average (median) infection fatality rate of COVID-19 was estimated to be just 0.035% for people aged 0-59 years and 0.095% for those aged 0-69 years. A further breakdown by age group found that the average IFR was 0.0003% at 0-19 years, 0.003% at 20-29 years, 0.011% at 30-39 years, 0.035% at 40-49 years, 0.129% at 50-59 years, and 0.501% at 60-69 years.
The significantly higher values for the top seven suggest some of the difference may be an artefact of, for example, the way Covid deaths are counted, particularly where excess death levels are similar. Note also that the antibody studies date from various points during the first year of the pandemic, most of them prior to the large winter wave of 2020-21, when levels of spread and numbers of deaths were more varied than later in the pandemic as subsequent waves caused countries to converge.
The reason some countries had much lower values and some much higher is not completely clear. The authors suggest that “much of the diversity in IFR across countries is explained by differences in age structure”, as per the plot below.
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