Wild conspiracy or not? Senate addresses excess deaths

The Senate voted for an inquiry into excess deaths.

The Senate voted for an inquiry into excess deaths. Photo: AAP

To people like Ralph Babet, Matt Canavan and Russell Brand, a rise in statistical excess deaths is proof of a deeper conspiracy that COVID-19 vaccines are killing people at an alarming rate.

With the help of the entire crossbench and the Liberal opposition in the Senate, Babet, the United Australia Party’s lone senator, successfully passed a motion on Monday to acknowledge “the concerning number of excess deaths observed in Australia in 2021 and 2022,” and that “there is a need for further inquiry as to the reasons for these excess deaths”.

Associate Professor Suman Majumdar, chief health officer of COVID and health emergencies at the Burnett Institute, said excess deaths are calculated through states registering deaths with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

“When [some] one dies, there is a death certificate that’s filled out by a doctor or a coroner,” he said.

“Excess deaths are people who have died from any cause, compared with the ‘expected’ deaths.”

Data from the ABS revealed that 10.9 per cent more people than expected died in 2022, or 19,945 people, before dropping slightly to 9.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2023.

Majumdar said “there is no case to make that COVID vaccines have led to excess deaths”.

“We have an excellent system of vaccine and drug safety reporting in Australia through the TGA,” Majumdar said.

“In their last report at the end of last year, it has 14 deaths likely related to vaccination from 70 million doses.”

Strange bedfellows

In his victory lap after the motion passed, Babet said “we cannot allow excess mortality to be normalised”.

“Only the Labor Party and the Australian Greens remain opposed to investigating why so many of our fellow Australians are dying. I thank the Opposition, and all crossbenchers for their support,” he said.

“We know from the official ABS data it’s not just COVID-19.”

The Labor Party and the Greens opposed the motion, but it successfully passed by a single vote with the support of the crossbench.

Independent Senator David Pocock stated that he doesn’t accept the conspiracy theories “that have featured so heavily in the discourse around COVID-19 and vaccines.

“I do acknowledge there is data showing excess mortality rates have increased in recent years,” he said.

“I believe there is merit in inquiring into this issue about which I receive a large volume of correspondence from constituents.”

He said refusing to examine excess mortality rates “only feeds conspiracy theories, fosters social unrest and takes away an opportunity to genuinely examine the changing disease burden in our community”.

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David Pocock believes it is worth a deeper examination, despite not believing his colleagues’ conspiracy theories. Photo: AAP

Is an inquiry worthwhile?

While it is clear an inquiry won’t support Babet and Canavan’s view that COVID-19 vaccinations are causing excess deaths, there is support among experts and researchers for more data being available.

Associate Professor Tim Adair, a research fellow at Melbourne University, said ignoring the politics, it is important for Australia to learn about the “dynamics of mortality during the pandemic”.

“When doing this more granular analysis, we need more detailed data,” he said.

“Once we have the data, we’ll be able to learn a lot more about what these dynamics were and, for example, how many more deaths were from diabetes.”

The excess death statistics globally have been latched onto by those hoping to discredit COVID-19 vaccines as unsafe, but Majumdar said it is important to remember that each excess death was a person who has died that otherwise wouldn’t have.

“Globally, COVID has caused an unprecedented level of death and the impacts are continuing,” he said.

“What we know is that two-thirds of excess deaths are directly due to COVID, so one of the questions is how much did COVID contribute to the remaining one-third?”

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