A photo of a male COVID patient lying in the prone position in the intensive care unit.

COVID deaths rejuvenated in second year of pandemic

COVID-19-related mortality shifted to a relatively younger population in the second year of the pandemic, which contributed to an increase in years of life lost, the researchers said.

Although more COVID-related deaths were reported from March to December 2020 compared to the same months in 2021, there was a 7.4% increase in years of life lost – a measure of premature mortality – during of the second year of the pandemic, with the median age at death from COVID rising from 78 in 2020 to 69 in 2021, reported Mark Czeisler, PhD, and Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, both of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Overall, years of life lost due to death from COVID increased by 35.7%, while years of life lost due to any other cause of death did not change by more than 2.2%. they noted in a research letter published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Further investigation should determine to what extent this downward age shift in COVID-19 mortality is attributable to high early mortality rates from COVID-19 in the elderly (e.g., involving nursing homes). nursing and long-term care facilities), relatively higher vaccination coverage and adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions in older adults compared to younger adults later in the pandemic, risk differences related to age associated with variant coronavirus viruses or other mechanisms,” the researchers wrote.

“Understanding this shift in the dynamics of COVID-19-related mortality could inform prevention and treatment approaches, public policy development, and community action to minimize the future effects of COVID-19.” they added.

More than one million COVID-related deaths occurred from March 2020 to September 2022 in the United States. Previous reports have indicated that similar COVID-related death rates occurred from March to December 2020 and from January to October 2021. However, there has been an increase in the number of deaths. rate in younger people and a decline in older people in 2021 compared to 2020, “reflecting excess premature mortality from COVID-19,” the authors noted.

In 2021, the CDC reported COVID-19 as the third leading cause of death. A recently released brief from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggested that the United States is unlikely to face a large increase in COVID-related deaths this winter, with one model predicting that rates will stagnate.

For this study, the researchers used mortality data from March through December 2020 and 2021 from CDC WONDER, an integrated system of datasets on public health topics. They also obtained age-specific life expectancies from the 2017 World Population Prospects and the World Health Organization’s Global Health Estimate, which provided projections for the year 2050 to represent lifespans assumed to be achieved by a significant number of people alive at the time of this analysis. .

The top 15 causes of death were the same across both time intervals and accounted for approximately 80% of all deaths: heart disease, cancer, COVID-19, unintentional injury, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, chronic diseases. liver disease/cirrhosis, kidney disease, influenza/pneumonia, suicide, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease and sepsis.

In both study intervals, years of life lost related to most leading causes of death were stable. Among three of the four causes of death with greater than 10% changes in mortality rates over the study intervals, consistent changes were observed in years of life lost.

Considerable increases in years of life lost (10.5%) and deaths (11%) due to unintentional injuries were observed, which the researchers said was partly due to the “record of overdose deaths from drug” which increased by 15% in 2021 – – resulting in almost 14,000 deaths – compared to 2020.

On the other hand, significant decreases in years of life lost and deaths due to influenza/pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease have been noted:

  • Influenza/pneumonia: 14.6% and 16.0%, respectively
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 12.6% and 14.2%, respectively

The researchers suggested that the decrease in death rates from Alzheimer’s disease, as well as Parkinson’s disease, was “perhaps due to the increased incidence of each individual’s early pandemic due to a misattribution of COVID-19 deaths when there was limited testing and a considerable number of COVID-19 related deaths missed medical care.”

They acknowledged several limitations to their study, including the use of provisional deaths from 2021 which may have been subject to reporting delays. Since the years of life lost measure compares life expectancy to age at death, they also cautioned that it “should not be used as a measure of a person’s potential contributions to life. society”.

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    Zaina Hamza is a writer for MedPage Today, covering gastroenterology and infectious diseases. She is based in Chicago.


The authors reported multiple relationships with industry.

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