A new analysis of US national data reveals that excess deaths declined from 655,735 during the first pandemic year to 586,505 in the second. The study is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Excess deaths were calculated from national and state-level data from 2009 to 2022. Between March 2020 and February 2021, 655,735 (95% confidence interval [CI], 619,028 to 691,980) excess deaths were estimated. Between March 2021 and February 2022. 586,505 (95% CI, 532,823 to 639,205) excess deaths were seen.
The authors of the study then analyzed excess deaths in states with low, medium, and high COVID-19 vaccination rates, defined as those in which less than 60%, 60% to 70%, and 70% or more of the population had received two doses of an mRNA vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by April 2022.
Excess deaths were 22%, 22%, and 25% above baseline in low-, medium-, and high-vaccination states in the first year of the pandemic, but 23%, 22%, and 16%, respectively, in the second. There were 55,000 more excess deaths in high- than in low-vaccination states in year 1, but 35,000 fewer in year 2, wrote the author, economist Christopher Ruhm, PhD, of the University of Virginia.
The decline in excess deaths for seniors was almost certainly related to their rapid uptake of vaccinations.
Reductions in excess deaths in year 2 were also seen among Hispanics, Blacks, and Asian Americans. The authors explained this was likely because minorities were initially much more susceptible to COVID-related deaths in the beginning of the pandemic.
Those over the age of 65 also saw a dramatic reduction in excess deaths in year 2.
"The decline in excess deaths for seniors was almost certainly related to their rapid uptake of vaccinations," Ruhm wrote. "With particularly sharp fatality reductions among nursing home residents when vaccines became available."