Start inquiry into excess deaths now to make better decisions later

Credit: Niels van der Pas
Credit: Niels van der Pas

The government is inexplicably slow to give the green light to an investigation into the high number of excess deaths in the Netherlands, say probability expert Ronald Meester and health economist Eline van den Broek-Altenburg.

On December 1 MPs voted unanimously in favour  of a motion tabled by Pieter Omtzigt requesting an independent scientific inquiry into the current excess mortality figures. So far the cabinet has done nothing to initiate such an inquiry, a remarkable and irresponsible omission in a situation that merits urgent action.

In the course of December the number of excess deaths increased even further to up to 1,200 a week, figures from the national statistics agency CBS showed. The reasons for this very high number of deaths are unclear.

Coronavirus victims (registered or unregistered) may account for part of the figure, so might people who died because of delayed care. And we cannot rule out that some died as a result of mass vaccination. Recent research based on the available data has shown that although vaccines protect we cannot rule out they can be risky to a degree for the over-65s.

During the month of December, when new lockdown measures were put in place, the number of excess deaths would be expected to fall. But because of the lack of source data, the effect of the measures on mortality have been impossible to gauge.

International research has shown a great diversity in excess mortality and Covid 19 related mortality ratios. Some countries, such as Mexico, have a high mortality rate and a relatively low number of Covid deaths. Other countries report totally different ratios. This ratio is an indication of how well a country can cope with peak capacity in care, as well as the scope of the problem of Covid deaths compared to other problems.

Pieter Omtzigt’s motion asked the government to start an inquiry into the causes of the high excess mortality in the Netherlands as quickly as possible. At a time when people in Europe are being urged and forced to get vaccinated, it should be a matter of course for the government to carry out this motion first, and and to do so without delay.


We are urging the government to give statisticians, medics, data analysts and health scientists access to all source data, without compromising privacy rules. The data concerned would include demographic data (such as age, sex, BMI), social economic data (such as income), vaccination status, side effects, comorbidity, and all data concerning hospital admissions.

So far the government has not made this data available, making an inquiry into the high excess mortality figures impossible.

The inquiry is needed to establish the clinical causes of the excess deaths, the effect of the measures to combat coronavirus, whether or not some groups in society are disproportionately affected, and how well the Netherlands ‘scores’ compared to other countries. It is possible that part of the excess deaths cannot be explained but we have to do our utmost to understand them as best we can.

Only if we know more we can alleviate some of the worry surrounding the figures and make the right political, medical and social decisions. Accidents involving ten or a hundred deaths are always followed by an investigation. We are being confronted with many more and that is why an inquiry is long overdue.


This column appeared earlier in the Volkskrant

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