- The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing over two years after it started.
- In the U.S., deaths from the disease have been relatively high in other similar countries.
- About one in 330 Americans have died from COVID-19.
One million Americans have died since the start of the pandemic, according to the
An estimated 9 million Americans have lost a relative due to COVID.
The COVID pandemic, on the other hand, has disproportionally impacted older people, immunocompromised individuals, and those with underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Data suggests that Hispanic and Black people were twice as likely to die from COVID, and men faced a greater risk than women.
People who remain unvaccinated are also more likely to die from COVID compared to vaccinated people. Research suggests at least 25 percent of COVID-related deaths could have been avoided if everyone had been vaccinated.
One million deaths is a grim milestone, epidemiologists say.
“One million is a significant number; in a typical year before COVID, about three million deaths would occur in the United States. To have one million COVID deaths on top of six million other deaths is an enormous mortality burden,” Andrew Noymer, PhD, a University of California Irvine epidemiologist and demographer who studies infectious diseases, told Healthline.
Though it’s difficult to predict, Noymer suspects the death toll from COVID in the U.S. will rise by about 100,00 this year. So that the cumulative toll will be at least 1,100,000 by the end of 2022.
“This is more of a floor than a prediction, and how high the ceiling is will depend on many factors, none more important than the ability of current and new variants to cause death in vaccinated individuals,” Noymer said.
Noymer expects that COVID may always cause more death and severe disease than seasonal influenza.
COVID and the flu are distinctly different illnesses. Even if COVID eventually becomes seasonal like flu, it may still have a higher mortality rate.
“In terms of mortality, influenza kills 60,000 Americans in a year, and that’s in a bad year. COVID has shown the ability to kill 500,000 in a 12-month period, and it has done so twice since its emergence in 2020,” Noymer said.
Pia MacDonald, PhD, MPH, infectious disease epidemiologist at RTI International, says the virus has evolved to become more contagious.
Infected people transmit the virus to more people than previous variants, which allows the virus to move more quickly through susceptible populations.
Furthermore, SARS-CoV-2 is brand new to our immune system, whereas influenza has been circulating for at least 100 years.
“In that, it is so new and so contagious, we can expect there to be more cases than influenza in the next few years,” MacDonald said.
We can also expect more variants to emerge since approximately 60 percent of the global population is vaccinated, MacDonald added. Immunity from previous infections and vaccinations appear to wane over time, too.
Our healthcare system is getting better at treating COVID and preventing deaths with novel therapeutics, but some people remain vulnerable to severe disease and death, even when vaccinated and boosted, says MacDonald.
“We are still not entirely skilled at limiting outbreaks in settings where the elderly live in congregated settings, nursing homes, or prisons,” MacDonald said.
Noymer expects that COVID-19 mortality and hospitalizations will decrease as population immunity grows.
COVID-19 vaccination does not prevent infection and transmission, but it provides strong protection against hospitalization and death.
A statistic from the CDC showed that 40 percent of recent COVID-related deaths were among vaccinated people, which has startled many — but epidemiologists say this was bound to happen as more people got vaccinated.
“There are simply far more adults who are vaccinated than unvaccinated, so even if the chance of them dying from infection is much lower, the fact that the number of vaccinated people is higher means that even though the proportion of them who die from COVID is low, they represent a greater number of the deaths than when few people were vaccinated,” says Jason Gallagher, PharmD, an infectious disease expert and a clinical pharmacy specialist in infectious diseases at Temple University Hospital.
Daniel Larremore, PhD, a computational biologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who uses mathematical modeling to study COVID-19 trends, says there are two facts that can help people understand why that number isn’t alarming.
“The first fact is that 33 percent of the population remains unvaccinated, but 60 percent of recent deaths were unvaccinated. In other words, being unvaccinated clearly increases risk of death,” Larremore said.
“The second fact is that the most vulnerable among us (our elders) are also the most likely to be vaccinated (91 percent vaccination rate among 65+), so when the protection and the vulnerability coincide in the same population, it inflates the rate of vaccination among those who have died,” Larremore added.
Noymer expects that COVID-19 will become seasonal over time, but how long it will take for COVID mortality to not only drop but remain low is unclear.
We are still witnessing year-round waves driven by new variants.
“As such, my prediction for the next 12-24 months is more ebbing and flowing of hospitalizations and deaths, as opposed to a steady decline,” Noymer said.
One million Americans have died since the start of the pandemic and an estimated 9 million Americans have lost a family member to COVID. Public health experts predict that 1.1 million people could die by the end of 2022 — but that will largely depend on the behavior of new variants and the durability of our immunity against COVID.