Deaths Among Older Adults Due to COVID-19 Jumped During the Summer of 2022 Before Falling Somewhat in September

As of the week ending October 1, 2022, the United States has lost nearly 1.1 million lives to COVID-19, of which about 790,000 are people ages 65 and older. People 65 and older account for 16% of the total US population but 75% of all COVID deaths to date. Vaccinations, boosters, and treatments have led to a substantial decline in severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19, but with booster uptake lagging, deaths for older adults rose again during the summer of 2022.

From April to July 2022, the number of deaths due to COVID increased for all ages but rose at a faster rate for older than younger adults and stayed high through August 2022, with deaths due to COVID topping 11,000 in both July and August among people 65 and older. While COVID deaths began to drop again in September, they were still higher for those ages 65 and older than in April or May; for those younger than 65, deaths dropped below their April levels.

The rise in deaths is primarily a function of increasing cases due to the more transmissible Omicron variant. Other factors include relatively low booster uptake, compared to primary vaccination, and waning vaccine immunity, underscoring the importance of staying up to date on vaccination. On September 1st, CDC recommended a new, updated booster for all those ages 12 and older, but particularly for those who are older.

Vaccination rates among people 65 and older were high for the primary vaccination series (92.4%), but were lower for the first booster (71.1%, among those who received a primary series) and even lower for the second booster dose (43.8%, among those who received a first booster), according to the CDC. Similar trends can be seen in nursing facilities, which are primarily comprised of people 65 and older. Further, CDC data show that, among people 50 and older, those who have received both a primary vaccination series and booster shots have a lower risk of dying from COVID-19 than their non-vaccinated counterparts. Though the uptake in boosters among people 65 and older has been much higher than among people under 65 and they are more likely to say they will get the new booster as soon as possible, booster uptake still remains relatively low compared to primary vaccination among older adults. This, combined with the rise in deaths among adults 65 and older over the summer, raises questions about whether more can be done to encourage older adults to stay up to date on their vaccinations.

The total number of deaths for people 65 and older more than doubled from April to July 2022 and stayed high in August 2022, topping 11,000 in both July and August (Figure 1, Table 1).

  • The number of COVID-19 deaths among people 65 and older is now much lower than at the peak of Omicron in early 2022, but deaths more than doubled between April and July 2022 (125%) and topped more than 11,000 in both July and August 2022.
  • For people younger than 65, deaths also increased during this time, but more slowly between April and July compared to older adults (52%) to about 1,900 in both July and August 2022.
  • While COVID deaths began to drop again in September, they were still higher for those ages 65 and older (~7,100 deaths) than in April (~4,900 deaths) and May (~6,300); for those younger than 65, deaths dropped below their April levels.
  • Among all age groups, deaths due to COVID-19 generally declined after the introduction of vaccines in late December 2021, but the number of deaths spiked with the introduction of the more transmissible Delta and Omicron variants, and due to relatively low booster uptake and waning vaccine immunity, as well as loosening COVID-19 mitigation measures.

People 65 and older have consistently accounted for a larger share of COVID-19 deaths than those younger than 65, and represented 88% of all deaths in September 2022 – the highest share since the pandemic began more than two years ago (Figure 2, Table 1).

  • With the rollout of vaccinations in the winter of 2020, the share of total deaths due to COVID declined for older adults from a peak of 84% in November 2020 to a low of 58% in August and July 2021.
  • Since the summer of 2021, however, COVID deaths among people 65 and older have been growing as a share of all deaths, reaching 88% in September 2022 – similar to the share of COVID-19 deaths accounted for by this group before vaccines were available.
  • People 85 and older account for 26% of COVID-19 deaths overall, but since May 2022, have accounted for 38% or more of all COVID-19 deaths (Table 1).

This analysis uses data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Provisional COVID-19 Death Counts by Sex and Age,” as of the week ending October 1, 2022 We include COVID-19 death counts from April 2020 to September 2022. Coronavirus disease deaths are identified using the ICD–10 code U07.1. Deaths are coded to U07.1 when coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 meets the definition of principal diagnosis. COVID-19 death counts are based on a current flow of mortality data in the National Vital Statistics System. The number of deaths reported in this dataset are the total number of deaths received and coded as of the date of analysis, and do not represent all deaths that occurred in that period. Data during this period are incomplete because of the lag in time between when the death occurred and when the death certificate is completed, submitted to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and processed for reporting purposes. This delay can range from 1-2 weeks. In addition, death counts for earlier weeks are continually revised and may increase or decrease as new and updated death certificate data are received.

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