COVID-19 death rates rising for younger, white Americans — Here's why

Younger Americans and white Americans account for an increasingly higher share of COVID-19 deaths than they did before all adults were eligible for vaccines, The New York Times reported Dec. 28.

Since April 19, when all adults in the U.S. became eligible for vaccination against COVID-19, the overall virus death rate has declined. Still, nearly a quarter million U.S. COVID-19 deaths have been reported over the past eight months. 

For much of the pandemic, older Americans and people of color were more likely to die from COVID-19, according to CDC data. While older Americans were particularly affected, that group was also among the first eligible for vaccines. Now, Americans 65 and older have the highest vaccination rate, with 87.5 percent fully vaccinated, according to CDC data as of Dec. 28. In comparison, 34 percent of Americans 5 to 25 years are fully vaccinated; 63 percent of Americans 25 to 39 years are fully vaccinated; 72 percent of Americans 40 to 49 years are fully vaccinated; and 79 percent of Americans 50 to 64 years are fully vaccinated, according to Dec. 22 data cited by the Times. Children 5 and up have only been eligible for vaccines since November.

To be clear, more older than younger people still die from COVID-19, but the virus now makes up a smaller share of all deaths among people 65 and older than it did before vaccines were available, according to CDC provisional weekly data through Nov. 27. For Americans 65 and younger, COVID-19 has risen as a cause of death.  

When stratified by race and ethnicity, the change in death rates among groups is even starker, with the rate rising sharply for middle-aged white people in particular.  

The shift could be attributed, in part, to the fact that white people are now less likely than Asian and Hispanic Americans to be vaccinated, though still somewhat more likely than Black people.  

Where people are dying from COVID-19 has also shifted since April. In most counties, death rates dropped, but in about 1 in 10 counties, death rates have more than doubled. States with lower vaccination rates tend to have higher virus death rates, particularly from the recent wave of delta variant cases.

This all suggests that the change in who is dying from COVID-19 may be tied to areas experiencing the worst outbreaks and who remains unvaccinated in those areas, according to the Times.


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