An updated analysis of U.S. COVID-19 deaths in 2021 points to a continued decline in overall life expectancy and continued disparities by race and ethnicity.
Lead author Theresa Andrasfay, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, and co-author Noreen Goldman at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs examined for the first time the impact of the pandemic on U.S. life expectancy in October 2020. Their first study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January 2021, showed that 2020 showed the largest one-year decline in life expectancy in at least 40 years and the lowest estimated life expectancy since 2003.
The updated analysis, published in PLOS ONEindicates that U.S. life expectancy at birth has declined by 2.2 years from 78.8 in 2019 to 76.6 in 2021. Estimated decline in life expectancy for 2021 is 0.6 years greater than the decline observed in 2020 said Andrasfay.
“Despite the availability of effective vaccines, life expectancy continued to decline in 2021. Part of this is due to the high number of COVID-19 deaths that occurred in early 2021, before many people became eligible for vaccination,” she said. “But even when all adults were eligible for vaccination, many chose not to be vaccinated, and even vaccinated individuals were not fully protected against the highly transmissible Delta and Omicron variants.”
The study highlighted that significant racial disparities in longevity loss have remained during the pandemic. Between 2019 and 2021, non-Latino whites lost an average of 2 years, while non-Latino blacks lost 3.5 years and Latinos 3.7 years in life expectancy. As noted in the previous analyzes by Andrasfay and Goldman, black and Latino Americans have experienced a disproportionate burden of coronavirus infections and deaths, due to persistent structural inequalities that increase the risk of exposure and death from COVID-19. Goldman noted that “although whites experienced a greater decline in life expectancy than the black and Hispanic populations between 2020 and 2021, resulting in a very modest reduction in racial and ethnic disparities, the disparities in the loss of life expectancy since the beginning of the pandemic, unfortunately. and unacceptably large.”
While COVID-19 is the main driver of the continued reduction in life expectancy in 2021, “increases in other causes of death relative to pre-pandemic levels contribute to these decreases in life expectancy,” the authors wrote. The pandemic appears to have played a role in the increase in drug overdose deaths in 2020 and 2021, and increased mortality from conditions such as heart disease or diabetes may be due to complications from Covid-19 infections and/or deficiency and healthcare delays.
This week, the CDC also released preliminary estimates of life expectancy in 2021. “We didn’t have access to the same level of detailed data as the CDC, so we came up with slightly different estimates of life expectancy,” Andrasfay said. “Despite these differences, our results are broadly consistent with continued reductions in life expectancy and continued racial and ethnic inequalities in 2021.”
“COVID-19 mortality was lower in the first half of 2022 than in 2021, so if there is a successful booster campaign in the fall and the dominant strains have lower mortality rates than previous variants, it is possible that life expectancy will improve in 2022 compared to 2021, although it is unlikely to return to pre-2020 levels,” she added. “However, what happens to life expectancy in 2022 will ultimately depend on the coming fall and winter.”
Materials supplied by University of Southern California. Originally written by Beth Newcomb. Note: Content is editable for style and length.