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OneAmerica CEO Scott Davison said life insurance industry data indicates death rates among working-age people were up 40% compared to pre-pandemic rates.
Social media users have suggested COVID-19 vaccines, rather than the illness itself, are responsible for the increase in deaths.
Research indicates that COVID-19 is likely responsible for the increase; there is no evidence to suggest the vaccines are to blame.
At the end of 2021, OneAmerica, an Indiana-based life insurance company, shared data about the ways the pandemic had impacted the life and disability insurance industry.
"We are seeing right now the highest death rates we’ve ever seen in the history of this business — not just at OneAmerica, the data is consistent across every player in that business," said OneAmerica CEO Scott Davison in December. "What we saw just in third quarter — and we’re seeing it continue into fourth quarter — is that death rates are up 40% over what they were pre-pandemic."
Davison didn’t provide much detail about the specific factors he believed caused the increase in deaths, but that didn’t stop vaccine skeptics on blogs, TV and social media from speculating.
"Life insurance companies suffered while the funeral industry prospered in 2021 after COVID vaccines were rolled out," read one Feb. 4 blog post’s headline.
Charlie Kirk, co-founder and president of Turning Point USA, suggested vaccines were the root cause when speaking to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Feb. 7: "Some would conjecture, ‘Hey, does this have something to do with the fact that we might have done a mass inoculation strategy?’"
One person on Facebook shared a screenshot from Carlson’s show about the OneAmerica numbers, writing in a Feb. 8 post, "It’s not from C-[virus emoji]."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines were to blame for any surge in deaths in 2021.
The suggestion that the COVID-19 vaccines might be to blame for the increase in deaths identified by OneAmerica was debunked by the Associated Press and others.
Research suggests that COVID-19 is responsible for the increase in deaths.
What’s driving up the death rate?
During a December virtual conference, Davison said that a 10% increase in deaths would be considered a one in 200-year catastrophe, "so 40% is just unheard of."
"And what the data is showing to us is that the deaths that are being reported as COVID deaths greatly understate the actual death losses among working-age people from the pandemic," he said. "It may not all be COVID on their death certificate, but deaths are up just huge, huge numbers."
Davison clarified that he wasn’t suggesting COVID-19 deaths were being undercounted, but rather noting that COVID-19 was contributing to other "pandemic-related" deaths. For example, someone who contracted the virus and recovered, but later died of complications from a subsequent illness that took a toll on the individual’s weakened immune system.
(Most experts do consider it more likely COVID-19 deaths are being undercounted than overcounted, however.)
Catherine Theroux, a spokesperson for LIMRA, a group that has researched the pandemic’s impact on life insurance claims, said they have studied both deaths attributed to COVID-19 and excess deaths, and "it is clear the uptick we have found can largely be attributed to the COVID deaths."
Jeff Lancashire, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that, throughout the year, deaths were higher compared to the same periods before the pandemic.
During the pandemic, Lancashire said the "peak months for deaths" were December 2020 through January 2021, and August 2021 through September 2021. The spike in COVID-19 deaths reported during those months was likely "due to the emergence of new variants," he said. (The data — particularly the newest data — are "provisional and subject to change," he said.)
Lancashire noted that because COVID-19 is a leading cause of death for Americans of all ages, the illness would be a factor in an increase in deaths.
Davison of OneAmerica pulled his 40% increase from third-quarter data, which includes July through September and therefore aligns with the second spike in deaths the CDC identified.
Theroux said it is possible COVID-19 might have indirectly contributed to an increase in deaths: "Some of the excess deaths we are seeing during the time of the pandemic may be caused by COVID indirectly, mostly because of delayed medical treatments and/or regular well-health screenings."
But she said that there is "absolutely no evidence" that COVID-19 vaccines are responsible for the increase in deaths.
Posts suggested a 40% increase in deaths identified by a life insurance company was from COVID-19 vaccines, rather than from the virus.
Research indicates that COVID-19 is likely responsible for the increase, both directly and indirectly. There is no evidence to suggest the vaccines are to blame.
We rate this claim False.
YouTube, "Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Hospital Association discuss COVID impact," Dec. 30, 2021
News18, "OneAmerica seeing an increase in disability claims," Dec. 30, 2021
PolitiFact, "How COVID-19 death counts become the stuff of conspiracy theories," Nov. 2, 2020
OneAmerica, "J. Scott Davison," accessed Feb. 11, 2022
Associated Press, "Vaccines didn’t cause increase in deaths and life insurance payouts," Jan. 10, 2022
Daily Beast, "Charlie Kirk Suggests COVID Vaccines Are to Blame for America’s High Death Rate," Feb. 7, 2022
PolitiFact, "There’s no basis to claim thousands have died from COVID-19 vaccines," Dec. 10, 2021
PolitiFact, "No evidence of COVID-19 vaccines causing deaths," Sept. 20, 2021
USA Today, "Fact check: COVID-19 vaccines don’t cause death, won’t decimate world’s population," April 30, 2021
Twitter post, Feb. 7, 2022
Email interview with Jeff Lancashire, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Canter for Health Statistics public affairs officer, Feb. 11, 2022
Email interview with Catherine Theroux, spokesperson for LIMRA, Feb. 10, 2022
Email interview with Amira Roess, professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, Feb. 11, 2022
The Center Square, "Indiana life insurance CEO says deaths are up 40% among people ages 18-64," Jan. 1, 2022
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