The 2020 pandemic year impacted mostly the elderly. From early on it became clear the most vulnerable were those over age 65, especially those with co-morbidities such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and obesity. Those in their eighties or older were especially vulnerable. The risk of death in this age category was roughly one thousand times higher than in the very young.
The 2021 pandemic year is shaping up as very different. While the elderly are still vulnerable, most of them by now have been vaccinated. Vaccination rates are highest in this demographic, as they should be. The surge in positive tests for Covid and hospitalizations is now mostly in a younger population. How are these younger people doing?
Jon Kamp and Paul Overberg, writing in The Wall Street Journal, tell us, “Federal data show Covid-19 deaths among people under 55 have roughly matched highs near 1,800 a week set during last winter’s surge. These data show weekly tallies for overall Covid-19 deaths, meanwhile, remain well under half of the pandemic peak near 26,000 reached in January.”
The predominant strain of the virus circulating today in the U.S. is the Delta variant. The first surge last year was the Alpha variant. Though this is still being researched, most scientists today believe the Delta variant is more contagious, but less virulent. That means more people will test positive, but fewer will die from the Delta variant. These differences could be related to other factors such as vaccination rates, a younger infected population, and others.
The seven-day average for newly reported Covid-19 deaths each day recently eclipsed 1,600, up from an average that briefly moved below 220 a day in early July. With roughly 660,000 known Covid-19 deaths to date, the U.S. is on track to soon top the estimated 675,000 deaths that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked to the 1918-19 flu pandemic.
If you’ve been vaccinated, these numbers need not alarm you. But if you’re unvaccinated, you should be paying attention. Deaths have been concentrated among the unvaccinated, according to federal data. The CDC reported last week that unvaccinated Americans were 4.6 times more likely to get infected, 10 times as likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times as likely to die as those who have been vaccinated.
Tampa General Hospital, one of Florida’s largest, reports over 90% of hospitalized patients were unvaccinated. Most of the remaining 10%, who were vaccinated, had compromised immune systems due to organ transplants or cancer treatment. My local hospital, Orlando Health, is reporting similar statistics.
As a result of these demographic changes, most of the new deaths are occurring in a younger population. Age remains a major risk factor, even in a younger population. People in their 30s are four times as likely to die from Covid as people ages 18 to 29, according to the CDC. For people ages 75 to 84, however, the risk of death is 220 times as high. This emphasizes the importance of young people getting vaccinated. The table below reflects this growing number of deaths in a younger population.
The number of working-age adults dying of Covid has returned to levels reached last year during the winter surge. Older Americans still account for the most Covid-19 deaths, but their higher vaccination rates have helped hold down the numbers. About 54% of the overall U.S. population and 63% of eligible people ages 12 and above are fully vaccinated, while the average among nursing homes is 84% for their residents, federal data show.
Fortunately, the most vulnerable, our seniors in nursing homes, are not seeing the rise in cases and deaths we witnessed last year. This is mostly due to the high rates of vaccinations in this demographic, as well as new requirements for all nursing home personnel to be vaccinated.
However, there are still some disparities in infection and vaccination rates among racial groups. CDC data show blacks and Hispanics face almost three times the rates of hospitalization and more than twice the risk of death as non-Hispanic whites. Rates among Native Americans are even higher. However, rates among Asians are similar to non-Hispanic whites. The disparities reflect pre-existing conditions, access to healthcare and occupational exposure according to public health experts. Cultural reluctance to vaccination is also a factor.