November 30, 2022

COVID-19-related deaths higher in younger people in 2021

By: Judy Mathias
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Editor's Note

This study by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, finds that in the COVID-19 pandemic’s early phases, most deaths were in older people, but in 2021, deaths in younger people increased while deaths in older people decreased.

The researchers, using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, calculated percent of COVID-19 deaths and years of life lost (YLL) per death. Although there were 20.8% fewer deaths in 2021 vs 2020, YLL increased 7.4%. As the age distribution of deaths shifted downward, the median age of COVID-19 deaths decreased from 78 years in 2020 to 69 years in 2021, and YLL per COVID-19 death increased by 35.7%. YLL per death for non-COVID-19 causes did not change more than 2.2%.

In secondary findings, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s deaths and YLL decreased potentially because of misattribution of COVID-19 and reduced medical access early in the pandemic. The number of deaths and YLL because of unintentional injury increased considerably, which the researchers attribute to the accelerating opioid epidemic and drug overdose deaths—up 15% (nearly 14,000 deaths) in 2021, compared with 2020.

Understanding this shift in COVID-19 mortality could inform prevention and treatment approaches, public policy, and community measures to minimize future effects of COVID-19, the researchers say.

 

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