A new analysis of U.S. COVID-19 deaths throughout 2021 highlights continued declines in overall life expectancy and continued disparities by race and ethnicity.
Lead author Teresa Andras Fey, a postdoctoral scholar at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, and co-author Noreen Goldman of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs first looked at the pandemic in October 2020 Impact on U.S. life expectancy. Their preliminary study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January 2021, showed that 2020 was the largest single-year drop in life expectancy in at least 40 years and the lowest estimated life expectancy since 2003.
Updated analysis, published in PLOS ONE, showing that life expectancy at birth in the U.S. fell by 2.2 years from 78.8 years in 2019 to 76.6 years in 2021. The estimated decline in life expectancy in 2021 is 0.6 years larger than the decline observed in 2020, Andrasfay said.
“Despite the availability of an effective vaccine, life expectancy continues to decline in 2021. This is partly due to the high number of COVID-19 deaths in early 2021, when many people were not eligible for the vaccine,” she said. “But even though all adults are eligible for the vaccine, many choose not to be vaccinated, and even those who are vaccinated are not completely protected from the highly circulating Delta and Omicron variants.”
The study highlights significant racial disparities in lifespan loss throughout the pandemic. From 2019 to 2021, non-Latino whites lost an average of 2 years, non-Latino blacks lost 3.5 years, and Latinos lost 3.7 years of life expectancy. As Andrasfay and Goldman’s previous analysis noted, Black and Latino Americans bear a disproportionate burden of coronavirus infections and deaths, reflecting persistent structural inequalities that increase exposure to COVID-19 and Risk of dying from COVID-19. Goldman noted, “Although the decline in life expectancy for whites is greater than that for blacks and Latinos between 2020 and 2021, resulting in a very small reduction in racial and ethnic disparities, regrettably, since the start of the pandemic, the expected The difference in life loss is still there. And it’s unacceptably large.”
While COVID-19 is the main reason for the continued decline in life expectancy in 2021, “an increase in other causes of death compared to pre-pandemic levels results in a decline 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, with increased mortality from conditions such as heart disease or diabetes likely attributable to complications from Covid-19 infection and/or healthcare shortages and delays.
This week the CDC also released provisional estimates of life expectancy in 2021. “We don’t have the same level of detail as the CDC, so we come up with slightly different estimates of life expectancy,” Andrasfay said. “Despite these differences, our results were largely consistent, as we found continued declines in life expectancy in 2021 and persistent racial and ethnic disparities.”
“The COVID-19 mortality rate in the first half of 2022 is lower compared to 2021, so if a successful booster campaign is carried out in the fall and the mortality rate of the main strain is lower than that of the previous variant, then the mortality rate in 2022 is lower. Life expectancy is likely to increase relative to 2021, although it is unlikely to return to pre-2020 levels,” she added. “However, life expectancy in 2022 will ultimately depend on the upcoming fall and winter.”