Eur J Epidemiol 36 (6) 599-603 [2021-06-00; online 2021-07-04]
Within Europe, death rates due to COVID-19 vary greatly, with some countries being severely hit while others to date are almost unaffected. This has created a heated debate in particular regarding how effective the different measures applied by the governments are in limiting the spread of the disease and ultimately deaths. It would be of considerable interest to pinpoint the factors that determine a country's susceptibility to a pandemic such as COVID-19. Here we present data demonstrating that mortality due to COVID-19 in a given country could have been predicted to some extent even before the pandemic hit Europe, simply by looking at longitudinal variability of death rates in the years preceding the current outbreak. The variability in death rates during the winter influenza seasons of 2015-2019 correlates to excess mortality in 2020 during the COVID-19 outbreak (Spearman's ρ = 0.68, 95 % CI = 0.40-0.84, p < 0.001). In contrast, there was no correlation with age, population density, latitude, GNP, governmental health spending, number of intensive care beds, degree of urbanization, or rates of influenza vaccination. These data suggest an intrinsic susceptibility in certain countries to excess mortality associated with viral respiratory diseases including COVID-19.