No Thanks for the Memory

(Sep 1, 2021)

That there is "no substitute for experience" is a truism, and one that is very tempting to apply wholesale to human immunity. Indeed, we previously touched upon an particular feature of the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak, the so-called "W-shaped" mortality impact resulting in disproportionate fatalities amongst younger adults in the 20-40 range. Some researchers theorise that older adults must have experienced an earlier influenza infection and thus gained a key immunological advantage over those not around at that time. However, our truism meets a strong challenge with COVID-19. One of the clearest and most robust observations globally is that for those infected by SARS-COV-2, it sucks to be old.

The different…

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Tags: coronavirus, influenza, pandemic, immunosenescence

Modelling mortality shocks

(Aug 16, 2021)

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has so far produced two mortality shocks in the UK and many other countries.  Unsurprisingly, the extra mortality is also visible in annuity portfolios.  Such mortality spikes create a challenge for actuaries - how do you model a portfolio's mortality experience when the period covered includes one or more pandemic shocks?

Actuaries analyse recent experience data to set a best-estimate basis (future trends or improvements are usually handled as a separate basis item).  However, the presence of a mortality shock creates a risk of upward bias (unless you want to assume that such mortality shocks will regularly re-occur).  One thought might be to remove all deaths with covid-19…

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Tags: coronavirus, mortality shock, season

Buy versus build

(Aug 9, 2021)

If you are in the business of pricing and managing longevity risk, you need software to help you perform your analysis. You have two choices:

  1. Buy in software purpose-written for the task, or
  2. Build the software yourself.

We have been in the business of selling the software in (1) since 2006, so I fall somewhat short of being a disinterested commentator.  However, regarding (2) I recently rediscovered one of the seminal texts on software engineering, namely "The Mythical Man-Month" by Frederick P. Brooks.  Here is what he has to say regarding the decision above:

The most radical possible solution for constructing software is not to construct it at all [...] Even at a cost of $100,000, a purchased piece of software…

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Tags: software

EDS - Enhanced Dedicated Servers

(Aug 4, 2021)

A large part of our service has tradtionally revolved around Dedicated Servers - parallelised instances of our applications running on multi-threaded platforms for a single license holder (in contrast our shared servers offer single-thread performance in a multi-tenant way to multiple license holders, a model that is suitable for only the least demanding use-cases). Our original dedicated server model developed at the beginning of our business, and it was entirely physical, running on Dell 1950 hardware offering a choice of four or eight cores (hardware threads). After we moved our production platform to a virtualised and replicated environment for improved resilience, we retained our four/eight…

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Tags: technology

A Problem of Excess

(May 12, 2021)

Epidemics and pandemics are, by definition, fast-moving and difficult to track. These are the diseases that we couldn't keep a lid on, outbreaks that breached our initial efforts at control. It follows then, that ongoing reporting of such diseases won't be entirely accurate, subject to various limitations imposed by testing and recording protocols. This reality is misused by some who believe that reported impacts are exaggerated and societal responses unjustified, but such a belief runs counter to the evidence. Excess mortality is implacable that way; a sufficient number of unattributed deaths will demand explanation eventually, and even the briefest examination of excess mortality figures during…

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Tags: coronavirus, mortality, pandemic

Deadly Parallels

(Apr 15, 2021)

Ever since the unhappy arrival of the SARS-COV-2 virus, COVID-19 and influenza have been compared for a multiplicity of reasons. I'm guilty of it myself: around the time of the first COVID-19 lockdown, a friend challenged me on why governments would consider the imposition of such extraordinary measures. My argument was simply that authorities presumably feared COVID-19 could become the next Spanish Flu. Of course, making such statements at that time might have been considered overreach, but I cited that once-in-a-century high-fatality pandemic disaster to illustrate why such strong measures could be considered both reasonable and warranted. It was odd then to find that influenza comparisons were just…

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Tags: coronavirus, influenza, pandemic

A pandemic retrospective

(Apr 15, 2021)

The former UK prime minister Harold Wilson famously said that "a week is along time in politics".  One wonders what he would have made of the coronavirus pandemic.  Figure 1 shows the daily distribution of the more than 150,000 COVID-related deaths that have occurred in the UK since the start of 2020.  In the first week of March 2020 there were just 6 deaths mentioning COVID-19 on the death certificate; in the last week of the same month there were 3,256.

Figure 1. Number of deaths in UK of people whose death certificate mentioned COVID-19 as one of the causes.  Source: ONS.  The vertical line shows 26th March 2020, the date that lockdown legally commenced in England.

The unfortunately historic nature of the COVID-19…

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Tags: coronavirus, influenza

Orders Of Magnitude

(Apr 7, 2021)

Updated 07/04/2021 for revised MHRA figures.

At the beginning of April, the MHRA published an analysis of vaccine safety reports in the UK and concluded that despite now finding increased evidence of rare blood clots following administration of AZD1222 from AstraZeneca (consistent with previous reports from Europe) the benefits of vaccination still outweigh the risks. This report was followed up by press-briefing on 7th April acknowledging the link between the vaccine and rare blood clots was "getting firmer". In a UK context this complication remains a remote possibility; up to 31st March UK found 79 instances of CVST or other low-platelet thrombosis out of 20 million doses given, representing a risk…

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Tags: coronavirus, vaccination

An abundance of clots?

(Mar 16, 2021)

clot n. 1. a soft thick lump or mass: a clot of blood2. Brit. informal. a stupid person; fool.

Collins English Dictionary (1986)


As David Spiegelhalter (2021) points out, blood clots happen all the time:  "at least 100 every week" in a population of 5 million.  Set against this benchmark, reports of 30 clotting events among millions of vaccinated people are therefore unremarkable.  Nevertheless, irresponsible media have widely reported this non-news.  As a result, a number of EU nations have paused their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the virus that causes Covid-19.  This decision was described by some as acting out of "an abundance of caution".

However, pausing part of the vaccination campaign,…

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Tags: coronavirus, vaccination

Allowing for reporting delays

(Feb 2, 2021)

In a previous blog I outlined my six-month rule of thumb for discarding mortality experience affected by reporting delays.  However, this can be awkward where there is a hard limit on how far back the experience data goes.  For example, when a pension scheme switches administrator, or an insurer migrates business from one system to another, past mortality data is usually the first casualty.  For example, I vividly remember starting a new job as head of mortality, only to discover that there was only 18 months of experience data available - a new annuity administration had gone into production, and nobody had thought to keep the experience data from the old system.  I wish I could say that this situation was unique,…

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Tags: OBNR

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