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Average US Life Expectancy Drops In 2020

There remain people who try to explain away COVID-19 mortality as due to underlying conditions like diabetes or asthma. This is like claiming that someone with diabetes who was run over by a bus was felled by the diabetes, not the bus. I continue to point these skeptics to two actuarial studies done in the US and UK that showed that COVID-19 was causing much earlier than expected deaths in patients with these and other comorbid conditions. All of this was later confirmed in another report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In other words, research has well established COVID-19 as the cause of death in most patients with comorbid conditions.

If something causes the death rate to increase, it is reasonable to expect life expectancy to decrease. This is what has happened in the US during the pandemic. Two recent studies reveal just how much of a toll COVID-19 has taken on life expectancy in the US in 2020.

An updated study published in mid-June (originally published in January) in the Journal of the American Medical Association by researchers from the USC School of Gerontology and from Princeton University reported that in 2020, the average US life expectancy dropped by 1.3 years (from 78.74 to 77.43 years). It also reported that compared to white people, the reduction in life expectancy was three times as large for Latinos and twice as large for blacks. The research was based on data obtained from the CDC, the Census Bureau, and the US Vital Statistics System. The study warned to expect a continued decline in life expectancy in 2021.

A separate study published around the same time in the British Medical Journal, confirmed the racial disparity in life expectancy due to COVID-19, and indicated that the pandemic took a much greater toll on life expectancy in the US than in other high-income nations.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on life expectancy include deaths directly attributed to COVID-19, as well as those due to pandemic-related reduced access to health care. It is important to understand that these factors are partly offset by a simultaneous reduction in deaths from other causes such as other infectious diseases and accidents as Americans sanitized more and traveled less. In other words, we saw a reduction in deaths due to common causes, which should improve life expectancy. Therefore, the fact that life expectancy dropped, rather than improved, makes the overall decline in longevity more alarming.

Increased mortality represents only part of the burden of COVID-19; for every death, a much larger number of infected individuals experience serious acute illness that requires hospitalization, many more face long term health and life complications that drain personal finances, stress health resources, and affect ability to work at jobs.

Greater than 95% of hospitalizations and >99% of COVID-19 deaths now occur in unvaccinated people. Almost all of this is preventable with vaccination.


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