United States passes 1 million COVID-19-related deaths, nearly 15 million excess deaths globally

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More than 1 million people in the United States have died from COVID-19. It is a somber number. Older adults have been hit especially hard–744,825 people over age 65 have died as of May 18.

In at least 90% of the 1 million deaths, COVID-19 has been identified as the underlying cause of death. In the remaining 10%, COVID-19 is listed as a contributing cause of death. Pneumonia, an infection of the lung often caused by the COVID-19 virus, has been present in more than half (517,256) of COVID-19 deaths. Hypertension (182,893) and diabetes (150,078) have been the most common pre-existing conditions in COVID-19-related deaths.

Excess deaths

Globally, the World Health Organization estimates there were 14.9 million “excess deaths” in 2020 and 2021. Excess deaths are deaths that would not have been expected based on death rates from previous years. In other words, the COVID-19 pandemic is already responsible for nearly 15 million deaths worldwide.

The excess death figure includes non-COVID-19-related deaths connected to the pandemic, such as those resulting from people  unable to access health care. The excess death calculation also factors in deaths that did not occur because of the pandemic, such as fewer vehicle-related deaths.

Many health experts believe excess deaths are a better indicator of the impact of the pandemic than deaths directly attributed to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there have been 1.12 million excess deaths in the United States since Feb. 1, 2020, including 12,518 in Oregon.

Public health experts believe many of those deaths could have been avoided. According to a recent analysis by the Brown School of Public Health:

  • Of the 1 million COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S., 641,305 occurred after vaccines became available.
  • In the U.S., 318,981 COVID-19-related deaths could have been prevented had every eligible adult been vaccinated.
  • In Oregon, 3,798 out of 5,999 (63%) of COVID-19-related deaths could have been prevented had every eligible adult been vaccinated.

“It’s true that, as the virus has mutated to form new variants, the vaccines are not as effective at preventing infection as they were in early 2021,” said Dr. Paul Cieslak, medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations at the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division. “However, the vaccines remain quite effective at preventing severe COVID-19 illness, including hospitalization and death.”

In March, 2022, people who were unvaccinated were:

  • 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who had received a primary vaccine series (ages 5 and older)
  • 17 times more likely to die than somebody who had received a primary series plus a booster dose (ages 12 and older)

“Getting vaccinated is still the best thing you can do to protect yourself from a severe case of COVID-19—especially one that could lead to hospitalization or death,” said Cieslak.

To find a COVID-19 vaccination clinic near you, check out Get Vaccinated Oregon. If you are unsure of your eligibility for vaccines or boosters, check out this website. COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are free and do not require insurance or proof of citizenship.