COVID-19 Death Toll Much Higher Previously Thought

The global death toll from COVID-19 has now been estimated to be much higher than previously thought. By analyzing the numbers of excess deaths in 191 countries and territories around the world, researchers estimated that 18.2 million people died of COVID-19 by the end of December 2021. That is about three times higher than official government estimates. The findings of this research were published in the Lancet in March.

Excess deaths are a key tool for determining the true mortality caused by the pandemic. The number of excess deaths is calculated by comparing the typical number of deaths in a year with the number that actually occurred.

Not all of these excess deaths have been caused directly by COVID-19. Some may have been caused indirectly – for example, because of problems accessing essential services during lockdowns.

This research helps create a more complete picture of the impact of the pandemic. Although it will be some time after the fact until we can assess the true magnitude of the impact on humanity of the COVID-19 pandemic, these interim efforts are highly valuable. As Dr Haidong Wang, lead author of the paper, said, “Understanding the true death toll from the pandemic is vital for effective public health decision-making.”

Image credit: Davian Ho for the Innovative Genomics Institute