Shuls to open amid fears over ‘Jewish risk factor’

Coronavirus death rate for British Jewish men double that of Christian males


Experts have suggested that there is a special, hitherto unidentified factor which makes Jews significantly more likely to die from Covid-19 than members of other religious groups.

A report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released last Friday showed Jewish males had a mortality rate of 187.9 deaths per 100,000 — roughly twice that of Christian males (92.6 deaths per 100,000).

Critically, it also found that after factoring in age, socio-economic factors and overall health, the mortality rate among Jewish men remained twice that of their Christian counterparts.

For Jewish women, when similar factors were taken into consideration, the coronavirus mortality rate was still 1.2 times higher than for Christian females.

By contrast, the higher mortality rates of Muslims and others more or less disappeared once adjusted for these factors.

The news came as the government announced this week that prayer services and weddings would be allowed to resume in England from July 4.

Nick Stripe, head of life events at the ONS, confirmed in the report that “Jewish males are at twice the risk of Christian males, and Jewish women are also at higher risk” even after adjusting for “the different circumstances in which members of these groups are known to live; for example, living in areas with higher levels of socio-economic deprivation and differences in ethnic makeup”.

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research said the ONS data suggested there was “a particular ‘Jewish factor’ that independently inflates mortality”.

City University London’s Professor Stephen Miller told the JC there were “at least six factors that might have contributed to the higher Jewish mortality” in addition to those already factored in by the ONS.

Closer social mixing among Jews, perhaps linked to Purim celebrations which took place shortly before the government’s lockdown in March, was given as one possible factor.

Travel to areas where infection rates were high pre-lockdown — such as skiing trips to Northern Italy – could also have caused the virus to spread among the community.

Lower levels of compliance with lockdown measures in some sections of the community should not be discounted, said Professor Miller.

Meanwhile, lower levels of vitamin D among Jews, especially Sephardim, was another factor to be considered - recent research has suggested that a deficiency in the vitamin may be associated with increased risks of Covid-19 mortality.

Jews also have a slightly lower prevalence of the ‘O’ blood type than other people in England and there is evidence that it is statistically significant in preventing a person developing severe respiratory symptoms from Covid-19.

There is also a possibility that health differences among Jews may contribute to greater risk of mortality - although clear evidence on this is not available.

Professor Miller said: “Whilst it is plausible to suggest that each of these factors could contribute to the excess mortality rate, there is no really firm evidence to establish whether, or to what extent, each played a role.

“And, of course, there could be other factors. It would be possible to examine some of these explanations more fully – but one would need to assemble a team of experts to do so.”

The ONS report looked at deaths from the virus between March 2 and May 15 in England and Wales.

At the time there had been 453 deaths of people identifying as Jewish in the census. The Board of Deputies this week confirmed that they had now recorded at least 500 deaths from Covid-19.

The ONS figures showed that among Jews aged below 64, there had been 16 deaths, while 252 had occurred among men over the age of 65.

Seven women under the age of 64 had died from coronavirus, and 178 women over the age of 65.

What the data did not explain was whether these higher mortality rates arose from higher rates of infection among Jews or higher mortality rates once infected with coronavirus - or a combination of the two.

Jonathan Boyd of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) told the JC that at this stage it is very easy to speculate about why there are reports of elevated counts among Jews – and specifically now among Jewish men – “but there are all sorts of reasons why this might be the case, and many of them cannot yet be empirically proven”.

The JPR issued a statement this week that praised the ONS report as a “remarkable piece of work” and added: “Detailed investigation of Jewish mortality is generally painstaking and slow, involving burial societies and synagogues providing detailed information which is then collated and analysed at JPR.”

Noting how Covid-19 mortality figures had already shown how black and ethnic minority groups “consistently experience worse health outcomes and higher mortality rates than those who are more advantaged’’ the JPR said the ONS data also “showed that certain religious groups – Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews – have all experienced higher mortality rates than Christians and indeed people of no religion”.

The ONS report showed that males identifying as Muslims had the highest rates of death involving Covid-19, which was statistically significantly higher than that of all groups other than the Jewish religious group.

For males aged 65 years and over, those identifying as Jewish and Muslim had an elevated Covid-19-related death rate compared to all other religious groups, at 795 deaths per 100,000 and 755 deaths per 100,000 respectively.

For females aged 65 years and over, those who identified as Hindu, Muslim or Jewish had a higher rate of death involving the virus compared to all other religious groups.

The JPR statement added that the ONS analysis “confirms our previous assertion that age and place of residence are key factors impacting mortality among Jews, but the persistence of elevated risks when all appropriate controls have been put in place suggests the presence of a particular ‘Jewish factor,’ that independently inflates mortality, and does so more for males than females.

“Both the strength of this particular ‘Jewish factor’ and its differentiated effect by sex cannot be easily explained. We remain puzzled by these findings and warn against quick and easy explanations.’’


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