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Researchers investigate if ‘Jewish factor’ caused high COVID death rate

Researchers in the United Kingdom are investigating a possible “Jewish factor” that could explain why Jews there were disproportionately likely to die of coronavirus, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

A study by Britain’s Office of National Statistics found that Jewish males were more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than Christian males. The heightened mortality rate remained constant even when controlling for age, income and pre-infection health. The study also found that given those controls, the coronavirus mortality rate for Jewish women was 1.2 times that of Christian women.

Muslims also had higher general mortality rates than Christians, but unlike with Jews, the Muslim mortality distinction disappeared when controlling for poverty and prior health history.

More than 500 Jews have died from COVID-19, according to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. That’s around 1.2% of total coronavirus deaths in that country, despite Jews comprising only 0.4% of the British population.

Jonathan Boyd, the executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, told the Jewish Chronicle that the data informing the Office of National Statistics’ conclusion was highly credible, “but there are all sorts of reasons why this might be the case, and many of them cannot yet be empirically proven.”

There are many possibilities behind these findings, said Prof. Stephen Miller of City University London.

Some are behavioral: Jews may have spread the virus at Purim parties or other synagogue events in the early days of the pandemic, may have been likelier to travel to and from other countries like Italy while outbreaks occurred before they flared in Britain, and may have been less compliant with lockdown procedures.

Other hypotheses are biological: Jews are less likely to have type O blood, and people with that blood type have a 50% reduced risk of COVID-19, according to the United States’ National Institutes of Health. Additionally, Jews, especially Sephardim, are likelier to have lower levels of vitamin D; people with vitamin D deficiencies are twice as likely to experience major COVID complications, according to a Northwestern University study.

“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,” Miller said. “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.”

Aiden Pink is the deputy news editor of the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aidenpink

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