2021 was the deadliest year in US history, and new data and research offer further insight into how things got so bad.
The main reason for the increase in deaths? COVID-19, said Robert Anderson, who oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s work on death statistics.
The agency quietly updated its preliminary death toll this month. It showed that there were 3,465 million deaths last year, or about 80,000 more than the record number of 2020.
Early last year, some experts were optimistic that 2021 wouldn’t be as bad as the first year of the pandemic — in part because effective COVID-19 vaccines were finally available.
“Unfortunately, we were wrong,” said Noreen Goldman, a researcher at Princeton University.
The number of COVID-19 deaths rose in 2021 — to more than 415,000, up from 351,000 the year before — as new strains of the coronavirus emerged and an unexpectedly large number of Americans refused to be vaccinated or hesitated to wear masks, it said. experts.
The coronavirus is not the only culprit. Preliminary CDC data also show that the crude cancer death rate has risen slightly and the rate continues to rise for diabetes, chronic liver disease and stroke.
The number of drug overdose deaths also continued to rise. The CDC does not yet have a count of overdose deaths in 2021, as it could take weeks of lab work and research to identify them. But preliminary data through October suggest the country is on track to see at least 105,000 overdose deaths by 2021 — up from 93,000 the year before.
New research released Tuesday showed a particularly large jump in overdose deaths among 14 to 18-year-olds.
According to the paper published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of adolescent deaths has been fairly constant for most of the past decade, at around 500 per year. They nearly doubled in 2020, to 954, and the researchers estimate the total was nearly 1,150 last year.
Joseph Friedman, a UCLA researcher who was the lead author of the paper, called the spike “unprecedented.”
Those teen overdose deaths were only about 1% of the total in the US. But adolescents experienced a greater relative increase than the overall population, although studies suggest drug use has declined among teens.
Experts attributed the spike to fentanyl, a highly lethal drug that has been cut into heroin for several years. More recently, it has also been squeezed into counterfeit pills that resemble prescription drugs that teens sometimes abuse.
The total number of deaths in the US often increases from year to year as the US population grows. But in 2020 and 2021, we saw extraordinary jumps in deaths and deaths, largely due to the pandemic.
Those national mortality trends affect life expectancy — an estimate of the average number of years a baby born in a given year could expect to live.
With rare exceptions, life expectancy in the US has increased reliably year after year. But the CDC’s estimated life expectancy for 2020 was about 77 years — more than a year and a half lower than in 2019.
The CDC has not yet reported the calculation for 2021. But Goldman and some other researchers have made their own estimates, presented in papers not yet published in peer-reviewed journals.
Those researchers think life expectancy in the U.S. will drop another five or six months by 2021 — putting it back to where it was 20 years ago.
A loss of more than two years of life expectancy in the past two years “is mammoth,” Goldman said.
One study looked at death data in the US and 19 other high-income countries. The US was the worst.
“What has happened in the US is not so much about the variants as about the levels of resistance to vaccination and the public’s rejection of practices, such as masking and mandates, to reduce viral transmission,” one of the authors said. of the study, Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a statement.
Some experts are skeptical that life expectancy will soon recover. They are concerned about long-term complications of COVID-19 that could hasten the death of people with chronic health conditions.
Preliminary — and incomplete — CDC data suggests there were at least 805,000 U.S. deaths in the first three months of this year. That is well below the same period last year, but higher than the comparable period in 2020.
“We may end up with a ‘new normal’ that is a little higher than before,” Anderson said.
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