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  • Ryan Wittler

The Pandemic’s True Death Toll May Have Been Three Times Higher Than Official Estimates


A new study published in The Lancet and led by researchers at the University of Washington has found the pandemic’s true death toll may have been three times higher than official reports suggest.

Some highlights:

Using data from 191 countries and territories, the study found that while the global reported COVID death toll was 5.9 million between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021, there was an estimated 18.2 million excess deaths over that same period.

  • Excess deaths represent the difference between the number of deaths from all causes and the number expected based on past trends.

  • According to the authors, their work is the first peer-reviewed global estimate of excess deaths during the pandemic.

The authors estimated the global excess death rate to be 120 deaths per 100,000 people.

  • By region, the highest rates were in Andean Latin America (512 per 100,000), Eastern Europe (345 per 100,000), and Central Europe (316 per 100,000).

South Asia experienced the most excess deaths (5.3 million), followed by North Africa and the Middle East (1.7 million each), and Eastern Europe (1.4 million).

  • By country, India (4.1 million), the U.S. (1.1 million), and Russia (1.1 million) experienced the most excess deaths.

Why it matters:

The authors say distinguishing the number of deaths from COVID and those that occurred as an indirect result of the pandemic is vital for public health decision-making, and as more data becomes available, the pandemic’s true toll will become more clear.

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