WHO says COVID death toll is 3 times greater than ever reported – what does that mean for the US?

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser is overcome with emotion during the opening ceremony of 'In America: Remember,' a public art installation commemorating all the Americans who have died due to COVID-19 near the Washington Monument on September 17, 2021 in Washington, DC.
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser is overcome with emotion during the opening ceremony of 'In America: Remember,' a public art installation commemorating all the Americans who have died due to COVID-19 near the Washington Monument on September 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo credit (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
By , Audacy

As of Friday, a World Health Organization data tracker estimated that 6.2 million people around the globe have died due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, new estimates from the organization indicate the actual death toll could be three times greater.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data updated Thursday includes 994,187 COVID-19 related deaths reported in the country since the start of the pandemic. According to a “country rate by year” data table provided by the WHO, the mean rate of excess deaths from all causes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. through 2020 and 2021 was approximately 3,320 per 100,000.

Since an absolute count of the excess deaths is affected by the population size, the WHO said the number of excess deaths per 100,000 gives a more objective picture of the pandemic.

“Excess mortality is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years,” the WHO explained.

So, excess deaths related to COVID-19 could be directly attributed to the disease or indirectly caused by the pandemic.

“Deaths linked indirectly to COVID-19 are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened by the pandemic,” said the WHO.

Additionally, the estimated number of excess deaths can be influenced by deaths averted during the pandemic due to lower risks of certain events. For example, motor-vehicle accidents or occupational injuries that may not have occurred during lockdown periods.

Overall, new estimates from the WHO show the full death toll associated directly or indirectly with the COVID-19 pandemic from Jan 1. 2020 – around two months before the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic – to Dec.
31 2021 was approximately 14.9 million. According to CNN, the WHO reported 5.4 million COVID-19 deaths in that timeframe.

Approximately 50% of the global population accounted for 80% of the excess mortality cases during that period. These cases were concentrated in 20 countries: Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, the Russian Federation, South Africa, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Turkey, Ukraine, and the U.S.

South-East Asia, Europe, and the Americas were home to 84% of the excess deaths. Middle-income countries accounted for 81% of the excess deaths, high income countries accounted for 15% and low-income countries each accounting for 4%.

“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”

Data from the 24-month period ending in December also showed that men had a higher death toll than women at 57% compared to 43% and adults had higher mortality rates than children. Estimates were developed as part of a collaboration supported by the work of the Technical Advisory Group for COVID-19 Mortality Assessment and country consultations.

According to the most recent CDC data, the seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. increased by more than 21% this week, but deaths decreased by 2.5% to around 334 per day.

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