Not a headline I like to see

Thanks, Washington Post. And first thing in the morning, too! What a thing for an old geezer to wake up to.

Great. My demographic. Although, while I am over 65, I’m not sick or poor, so I can take some solace in that…except that I don’t think being old, sick, or poor should mean you get neglected by society, and I don’t think any of us should be categorized as an acceptable loss.

More than 300 people are still dying each day on average from covid-19, most of them 65 or older, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While that’s much lower than the 2,000 daily toll at the peak of the delta wave, it is still roughly two to three times the rate at which people die of the flu — renewing debate about what is an “acceptable loss.”

And while older Americans have consistently been the worst hit during the crisis, as evident in the scores of early nursing home deaths, that trend has become more pronounced. Today, nearly 9 in 10 covid deaths are in people 65 or older — the highest rate ever, according to a Washington Post analysis of CDC data.

If this disease does get me, I’m going to raise a bony finger to point at all the heedless younger people who don’t believe in masking, or any other basic preventative measures. And I’m especially planning to claw my way out of the grave to knock on the doors of all those people who think that saying “it’s just a flu” is an excuse for ongoing contempt for core concepts in epidemiology. Or anyone who claims the pandemic is over.


  1. raven says

    Well, look at it on the bright side.

    A lot of those under 65 won’t die but they will be very sick and some will be permanently disabled, the long haulers.
    (This is sarcasm although it is also true.)

    I didn’t know too many people who died, but I do know a lot of long haulers.

  2. raven says

    In the third year, the nation is on track to lower that count significantly, to 150,000 to 175,000 deaths — barring a curveball in the form of a new variant.
    Last month, people 85 and older represented 41.4 percent of deaths, those 75 to 84 were 30 percent of deaths, and those 65 to 74 were 17.5 percent of deaths, according to a Post analysis.

    More from the article.

    It is even more skewed than just saying that 90% of the deaths from Covid-19 virus are over 65.
    The average age of those dying of Covid-19 virus is around 80.

    Those 65 year old kids still aren’t in that much danger.

    I read the article and one piece of data was left out.
    How many of those old people are antivaxxers?

    “According to the CDC, 98 percent of those ages 65 to 74 and 96 percent of people 75 and over completed an initial two-shot course.Almost all very old people are vaccinated.

    I did see one 70 something antivaxxer get Covid-19 virus.
    He was healthy considering and got sick but not that sick.
    The virus infection also destroyed his kidneys in a few weeks.
    He ended up on dialysis.
    Made worse because he was scheduled for an operation to repair a limiting knee injury.
    No surgeon will do the operation now because dialysis makes bone healing too difficult by interfering with calcium and phosphate levels.

  3. chris61 says

    @4 raven
    Almost all very old people are vaccinated but only half or so have had all the recommended booster shots. Of course as a very old person being vaccinated or not may not make that much difference (haven’t seen the numbers), given the ability of the immune system to respond to vaccines declines with age.

  4. weekendeditor says

    If this disease does get me, I’m going to raise a bony finger to point at all the heedless younger people who don’t believe in masking, or any other basic preventative measures.

    That’s pretty much what happened to me (index of a dozen blog posts about COVID-19, paxlovid, rebound, and slow recovery). I got stuck on a shuttle bus filled with unmasked younger folks, with a driver who didn’t know the route. So that was effectively an unplanned indoor confinement for an hour in a poorly ventilated space with a crowd of unmasked people. I was masked, but at that point it probably didn’t matter.

    The resulting COVID-19 case cost me a month of my life, even with paxlovid. I’m still feeling a bit of brain fog, which the literature hopefully informs me should clear up around February. My spouse also got infected, the R0 for Omicron being as high as it is.

    So, yeah… not wearing a mask may feel like it’s a free move for you, but it’s not free for those around you who bear the consequences.

    I’ve had 5 doses of vaccine, including the new bivalent booster, and so has my spouse. But we really don’t want to repeat the experience of being infected.

  5. seachange says

    I think there’s information missing here in these statistics, PZ. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m not saying that COVID isn’t bad. Just that statistics can be sloppy and be motivated by money and trends. There isn’t enough information that you have presented here, and when I follow your link I get a request to pay for a subscription. To the Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos.

    This leaves me uninspired to throw some of my money that way to be sure.

    My dad died -with- prostate cancer, but not -from- prostate cancer. Back when AIDS was untreatable in any useful/effective way and the stigma for being gay was much higher, obituaries would blandly say ‘from sudden illness’ or ‘from complications of pneumonia’. Among some there would be mention of cancer but not Kaposi’s Sarcoma specifically.

    As usual excess deaths is the way to look at this for sure. Does the article describe the graph as presented as accounting for these?

  6. says

    We are in the ‘death demographic’ and have had 5 vaccinations. We don’t want to become hermits, But, as prudent precautions, we will mask-up and avoid crowds and the drooling anti-vaxxer rtwingnuts for the rest of our lives.

    For those who threaten those of us who are responsible and masked-up, “You imbeciles, the mask protects me from your diseases, it also protects you from anything I have, it works on Covid and helps with the flu and also lessens environmental allergies. So, stuff your malicious ignorance up your own sphincter!”)

    I’m angry. I’m tired of irresponsible, selfish, ignorant rtwingnuts murdering people with impunity and without any consequences.

  7. says

    @8 seachange: You should know that most responsible epidemiologists and medical professionals recognize that the CDC no longer collects and reports ‘comprehensive’ information about Covid, espouses the ‘droplet’ fantasy instead of the accurate ‘airborne’ model and mainstream media NEVER presents a complete and accurate picture of what they report. There is always emotion driven distortion in causes of death. (classic: gunshot victim reported as ‘dying of lead poisoning’) Therefore, we must examine multiple authoritative sources to get a more accurate (but never completely accurate) picture.

  8. silvrhalide says

    There’s a lot of data that I’d like to see teased out of the information in the article. Yes, the bulk of Covid 19 deaths skew old and poor.
    So does the audience for Fox News and all their shrill halfwit spinoff shows. Given that Faux News and associated idiots promote antivaxxer nonsense and useless “cures” or “treatments” (including bleach, WTF) and their audience skews elderly, poorly educated and credulous, I’d like to see how many/what percentage of elderly deaths are also antimaskers, antivaxxers, people who are mainlining horse dewormer, etc. I’d be curious to see what the death rates look like for the elderly if you filtered out the suicidally stupid.

    The article also mentioned the death of 65 and over in nursing homes. The elderly in nursing homes are, by definition, less healthy and more vulnerable. They already have preexisting conditions that necessitate their living in some kind of assisted care. Again, I would like to have seen a comparison of the death rates between the nursing home elderly (and breakdown by age) vs. the independently living elderly (also broken down by age). I kind of feel that there’s probably some important data that’s just being glossed over because as a society, we largely view all old people as a monolithic group when in fact there is considerable variation. Also, the environmental factors (if you live in a group facility, you are by definition exposed to far more people than you might if you were living independently.) If a person becomes infected and sick with Covid in a nursing home setting, would they have been equally vulnerable/susceptible had they been living independently? Are they better off in a care facility despite the greater risks of infection, because they are more likely to be diagnosed earlier and receive supportive care earlier?
    If it turns out that there is only a mild or insignificant bump in the death rate from Covid in the over 65 crowd after you filter out the suicidally stupid, then it’s time for “still mask when visiting Grandma and Grandpa”. If not, then it’s time to shift resources to fight that bump. If it turns out that most of the increase is from stupid people being stupid, well, good luck with that. I’m sure the stupid people already have medical personnel telling them to manage their diabetes/take their heart meds/wear a mask/get vaccinated and they are already choosing not to comply. In which case, I feel kind of bad for their next of kin who may miss them when they’re gone (or not) but I’m not going to lose sleep over it either. Asshats are gonna ass.

  9. whheydt says

    I’m 73. I’ve had a total of 5 shots so far, the last one being a bivalent vaccine. I still mask up to go out (note…not masking again as I never stopped). If another booster is recommended, I’ll get it. (And I expect that to happen in the spring.)

  10. says

    Here is an example of the murderous deceit in mainstream news. IIRC Fux news reported that ‘more vaccinated than unvaccinated people now dying’. However, the graphs and reports from the ‘medical’ sources were based on people who had ‘one vaccination’ (or more). That is a GROSS distortion, since if you have only one vaccination, you are not fully vaccinated.

  11. christoph says

    Remember when the repubs were warning us about the “Obamacare Death Panels” that would deny medical care to the old and infirm? Now they’re fine with those same people dying of COVID.

  12. Allison says


    “According to the CDC, 98 percent of those ages 65 to 74 and 96 percent of people 75 and over completed an initial two-shot course….

    That’s the rate for everybody in those demographics.

    What’s the rate of vaccination among those who are dying? That is, to what extent are the people who are dying unvaccinated? Earlier in the epidemic, it was mostly the unvaccinated who were dying or ending up in the ICU. Has this changed?

  13. raven says

    What’s the rate of vaccination among those who are dying?

    Yeah, I know.
    It wasn’t in the Washington Post article from the OP.


    For the first time, a majority of Americans dying from the coronavirus received at least the primary series of the vaccine.

    Fifty-eight percent of coronavirus deaths in August were people who were vaccinated or boosted, according to an analysis conducted for The Health 202 by Cynthia Cox, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    Here it is.
    It is 58% vaccinated among the dead.
    Antivaxxers are still way overrepresented.

    This isn’t at all surprising.
    When almost everyone is vaccinated, who is left.
    The antivaxxers who were dying like flies for a while and reducing their numbers in the population.

    .2. The other point here is obvious.
    Having a two dose vaccination two years ago doesn’t really make you all that vaccinated.
    We know that the vaccine effectiveness goes down with time and also as newer variants of the virus take over.

    The consensus among ICU staff these days is that the Covid-19 virus patients that end up there are either; very old people, organ transplant patients, cancer patients, or antivaxxers.

  14. StevoR says

    There’s another wave here in South Australia. Most people seem to be ignoring it and not masking anymore. It really worries me. FWIW, I’m masking up, fully vaxxed and have greatly reduced going out .

    On the positive side the state govt just made RAT’s free and I think have reintroduced compulsory masking for schools.

    Too many have decided this is over when it isn’t and this is going to have pretty terrible consequences.

  15. chrislawson says


    They don’t need to massage the figures to come up with that headline. It’s a very old, very effective misdirection technique borrowed from the antivaxx crowd. Even for an incredibly effective vaccine, once the population vaccination rate gets higher than the vaccine efficacy, there will be more total cases in vaccinated than unvaccinated people. Which then becomes a liar’s talking point because it’s both true and incredibly deceptive.

    The honest way to report this is in cases per capita, not total number of cases. As soon as the data is presented this way, then the efficacy of a vaccine becomes apparent (it is, in fact, how we calculate efficacy! — it’s literally the ratio of cases per capita in vaccinated vs. unvaccinated groups).

  16. chrislawson says

    Jeez, I tried to do everyone here a favour and drag out the references from that WaPo article so you could look up the information it was derived from even if you weren’t prepared to step through the paywall. No such luck!

    This article, despite being well written and imho pretty much on point, commits the cardinal error of not consistently linking to its sources. Even worse, it doesn’t even describe its sources well enough to check them. For instance, there is a major finding that is simply referred to as “a recent CDC report”. Which one? Do you expect readers to trawl through every one of the CDC’s many monthly reports to find the data you refer to?

    Weirdly, there are times that they are extremely precise: ‘In an open letter published Oct. 7 in the BMJ, formerly the British Medicine Journal, Gregg Gonsalves, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health, and about a dozen other experts emphasized that “pandemics do not end with a flip of the switch.”‘ So they’ve given a very clear reference to quote an opinion that has been held by every epidemiologist ever since the term epidemiology was invented, but they won’t give clear references to data sources!

    I don’t expect journalists to become scientists, but it would be nice if they understood some core scientific standards (e.g. clearly fucking reference any data you report on) before wading into print.

  17. hemidactylus says

    I’ve become more of a fatalist tempting fate. I’ve gotten all my shots and I’m not supersocial except work, but haven’t been masking for quite a while. A coworker went on vacay and got it, but was behind on boosters. He’s masking now. I haven’t gotten it yet since 2020. Close calls! I’ll mask afterwards if I do once cleared. At this point being exposed is probably inevitable. The ‘rona might act if timed right as an apt booster. YMMV. Why spar with boosters if you’re not going to fight the main event? It’s never going away. That ship done sailed.

  18. rorschach says

    9 out of 10 people dying being over 65 is the base rate, Covid didn’t change that. The thing is, these deaths are largely preventable. Masks, distancing, vaccination, Paxlovid, and most of these people would not have to die. That is the real scandal.
    That, and the 10% of under 65s with asymptomatic or mild infection, who are rendered unable to work due to Long Covid. The cancers from mild HIV infection started after 5+ years, we are yet to see if this virus is oncogenic. We know it shoots down the immune system, see current number of paediatric hospitalisations.

  19. rorschach says

    “The ‘rona might act if timed right as an apt booster.”

    No, no, and no. We are in the seventh wave here mate, just think about your theory there for one second. And then consider the longterm effects, the hightened cardiovascular mortality after infection, and the immune system effects. You don’t want this, and it doesn’t booster anything, apart from your death and disability.

  20. hemidactylus says

    @23- rorschach

    With multiple waves almost everyone is fated to get it. The waves might themselves get less severe. I assume my updated booster probably attracted attention of immunocytes looking roughly for matches to Wuhan due to multiple previous vaxxes against that epitopic look. My T-cells chopped it up differently than yours due to our differing genetic backgrounds. My B-cells have some sloppy spread due to developmental recombination of antibody genes plus mutational breadth. The updated booster response may have broken me free of imprinting bias and started mutating toward BA.4 and BA.5 with some fortuitous slop for new Omicron variants or are still deeply mired in the Wuhan past. Another boost of updated Spikevax may have overcome imprinting but those aren’t offered :-(

    Regardless my B-cell response to any coming variant may result in mutation toward the Spike look of that variant PLUS its other immunogenic epitopes. It will be a boost against Spike plus primary response to the other parts of the virus in separate immunocytic pools (assuming I have not been infected previously). Some of those antibodies may not be neutralizing but relevant to other effector responses (hopefully not ADE causing). Infection will boost in people with vaccination history. See hybrid immunity.

    In the long term hopefully SARS-CoV-2 tamps down, due to its own mutations and also the B/T cell responses set up in hosts due to multiple rounds of vaccination and infection, into yet another HCoV “cold”.

    There will be nastier variants as happens with influenza. There could be other coronavirus spillovers that make COVID-19 look like a picnic.

    Maybe more universal vaccines will help with both influenza and sarbecoviruses, if they get funding, support, and adoption down the road.

  21. rorschach says

    “With multiple waves almost everyone is fated to get it.”

    No. And there is no evolutionary pressure on this virus to get more mild. Why would it, if it can infect people even when they are asymptomatic?

    “Regardless my B-cell response to any coming variant may result in mutation toward the Spike look of that variant PLUS its other immunogenic epitopes. ”

    Sorry, but this makes no sense at all. This is about T-cell response.

  22. says

    chrislawson @ #20:

    This article, despite being well written and imho pretty much on point, commits the cardinal error of not consistently linking to its sources.

    This infuriates me. It’s basically journalistic malpractice, and for some reason it’s allowed at prestigious publications.

    Weirdly, there are times that they are extremely precise: ‘In an open letter published Oct. 7 in the BMJ, formerly the British Medicine Journal, Gregg Gonsalves,…

    FFS, WaPo – it was the British Medical Journal.

  23. Jazzlet says

    The not quoting sources goes along with presenting two non-comparable numbers as if they mean something. I suspect that goes way back to the injunction of so many English teachers that you shouldn not repeat a word in an essay, you should find synonyms. So the journalist won’t say “58 per cent of the dead were unvaccinated, while another i5 percent % had only one vaccination”, they’ll say 58 percent of the dead were unvaccinated, while 3,680 had an incomplete series” or some such.

  24. hemidactylus says

    @25- rorschach
    1. Asymptomatic is as mild as it gets. WTF? Vaccination will reduce chances infection progresses to severe illness or death. It may take some days for infection to result in an immune response if previously vaccinated, but still much quicker than if antigen naive. Symptoms will be milder typically if not naive. Fewer and fewer people are antigen naive. That’s important in terms of future waves becoming tsunamis or smaller pebble drops.

    If a person vaccinated with IPV gets exposed to polio they may get infected and could transmit but the three doses will keep the infection from progressing to a disease state.

    B and T cell immunity are both aspects of adaptive immunity. In that part you quoted I was highlighting hypermutation within B cell antibody gene variable regions though left out the subsequent selective component where the better matching variants survive.

    I did mention T-cell immunity which only involves pre-exposure recombination within receptor gene segments. The MHC complex varies within human populations and we each chop up antigens differently. T-cell response may be more resilient towards SARS-CoV-2 in people who have been vaccinated keeping us from getting really sick and dying once antibody levels decline months after previous boosting or infection. And the variable cuisinart nature of T-cell immunity might keep SARS-CoV-2 variants from being as evasive. If they outwit B-cell immunity, they still have to deal with the T-cells which seek out infected cells and signal them to self-destruct (among other things).

    But memory B cells will remain to provide a pool of cells that can ramp up an effectivish response and may then undergo rounds of mutation and selection (affinity maturation) that make them better matches against the variant they just went up against. It’s an arms race between affinity maturation in B-cells to provide sterilizing immunity upon future reinfection and the ever evolving variants themselves.

    In what way can it be exclusively “about T-cell response”?

  25. rorschach says

    “1. Asymptomatic is as mild as it gets. ”

    I don’t quite understand that statement. Asymptomatic Covid is just as likely to produce cardiovascular complications, premature death, dementia, psychiatric conditions, diabetes, you name it, than symptomatic Covid. Although there might be a cluster of symptoms that are more likely to occur after moderate to severe disease and ICU stay. In particular anosmia is becoming a predictor of developing early dementia, no matter what age group.