Tuesday, January 18

The number of Covid-19 victims in the US exceeds the deaths from the 1918 pandemic

Deaths from Covid-19 in the US have surpassed the toll of the 1918 influenza pandemic, a milestone that many experts say was preventable after the arrival of vaccines.

The United States has reported 675,446 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than the 675,000 estimated to have died a century earlier.


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The United States hits that deadly mark despite the wide availability of Covid-19 vaccines, which were developed in record time in a show of extraordinary advances in medical science in the past century. Vaccines have been overlooked by some 70 million eligible Americans, many of them encouraged by Republican politicians and conservative media.

“It is distressing to have so many people who have died with modern medicine,” said Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Research Institute, who noted that there were no ventilators or vaccines in 1918. “The number we are at represents a number that is much worse than it should be in America. ”

The milestone also comes as the rapidly spreading delta variant has pushed the US into a dangerous new phase, shattering hopes that the pandemic had passed and setting the stage for an uncertain winter.

Of course, comparisons with the 1918 pandemic are very imperfect. For starters, the United States has roughly three times as many residents as it did a century ago, which means that the implicit death rate is roughly a third higher.

Different objectives

The 1918 pandemic also targeted many young people, while Covid has so far primarily killed people 65 and older, and pandemics have developed at very different rates, according to John Barry, author of “The Great Influenza: The Story. of the Deadliest Pandemic “. in History. “He said the 1918 pandemic did most of its damage over a 14-15 week period in the latter part of that year.

“That was so much more intense, so much scarier,” Barry said of the earlier tragedy. But Barry said the stress from Covid has been more enduring, “and the economic damage is greater in light years.”

There are other reasons why the figures may not reflect significant differences. The estimate of 675,000 from 1918-19 was based on extrapolations from irregular data. While imperfect in their own way, Covid’s stats are probably better.

During extreme events like pandemics, experts use so-called excess death studies as a way of estimating deaths, essentially comparing the number of deaths in the outlier period with “normal” times. An estimate of excess deaths from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that there have been as many as 830,443 such deaths during the Covid pandemic, meaning official figures could be an undercount. .

Excess unaccounted for deaths may also reflect the price of healthcare interruptions and other indirect by-products of the pandemic.

The vaccines were first released in the US in December and have been widely available for months. Since then, the vast majority of deaths have occurred among unvaccinated people.

“There is so much misinformation that some people cannot be convinced” of the benefits of vaccines, said Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama. “Those are absolutely preventable deaths.”

A CDC study this month found that people who were not fully vaccinated this spring and summer were more than 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than those who were fully vaccinated. While the spread of the delta has led to more cases among those vaccinated than many anticipated, the vaccine still protects well against serious diseases.

Topol, the head of Scripps, said the United States has failed in other ways. The use of masks has decreased significantly and most people continue to use cloth masks, which have been shown to be much less effective than surgical masks and N95. He said there should be widespread distribution of medical grade masks and rapid Covid tests at home that can help detect infections early on.

“Vaccines are a critical part of the strategy, but we have failed in other measures as well,” Topol said. “We are waging this war with both hands behind our backs.”

© 2021 Bloomberg


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