Unexpected recent trend in Covid deaths

David Leonhardt writes about an unexpected recent trend. When it comes to almost any issue in America, the data for people of color, especially Blacks and Hispanics, are worse than for whites. And in the early days of Covid, that dreary pattern emerged once again.

During Covid’s early months in the U.S., the per capita death rate for Black Americans was almost twice as high as the white rate and more than twice as high as the Asian rate. The Latino death rate was in between, substantially lower than the Black rate but still above average.

Minority and marginalized communities tend to have less access to health care and thus the initial trend was regrettable but not unexpected. But recently, there has been a surprising reversal.

But these large racial gaps in vaccination have not continued – and as a result, neither have the gaps in Covid death rates.

Instead, Covid’s racial gaps have narrowed and, more recently, even flipped. Over the past year, the Covid death rate for white Americans has been 14 percent higher than the rate for Black Americans and 72 percent higher than the Latino rate, according to the latest C.D.C. data.

So what is the cause for this reversal?

The main culprit is politics. Only about 60 percent of Republican adults are vaccinated, compared with about 75 percent of independents and more than 90 percent of Democrats, according to Kaiser. And Republicans are both disproportionately white and older. Together, these facts help explain why the white death rate has recently been higher than the Asian, Black or Latino rate.

In heavily conservative, white communities, leaders have not done as good a job explaining the vaccine’s benefits – and Covid’s risks – as leaders in Black and Latino communities. Instead, many conservative media figures, politicians, clergy members and others have amplified false or misleading information about the vaccines. Millions of Americans, in turn, have chosen not to receive a lifesaving shot. Some have paid with their lives.

The successful part of the story is the rapid increase in vaccination among Black and Latino Americans since last year. Today, the vaccination rate for both groups is slightly higher than it is for white Americans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s surveys.

That has happened thanks to intense outreach efforts by medical workers, community organizers and others.

Why haven’t you heard more about the narrowing of Covid’s racial gaps? I think part of the reason is that many experts and journalists feel uncomfortable highlighting shrinking racial gaps in almost any area. They worry that doing so will somehow minimize the problem of racism and the country’s enduring inequities.

Certainly, there are important caveats to the Covid story. For one thing, the total death rate remains higher for Black and Latino Americans, because the early disparities were so huge. For another, the unequal nature of underlying health conditions means that a Black person remains more vulnerable on average to severe Covid than a white person of the same age, sex and vaccination status.

Even with these caveats, the larger story remains: Covid has killed a smaller percentage of Black, Latino or Asian Americans over the past year than white Americans. To deny that reality is to miss an important part of the Covid story.

How many of 641,000 deaths that occurred after the vaccines were available were lost due to people not taking the vaccine? According to a study, the estimated number of preventable deaths is 319,000.

It is tragic that so many people were turned away from taking the vaccines due to misinformation, sometimes deliberately created and propagated. It should not be surprising that most of the preventable deaths occurred in red states.

The rapid development of the Covid vaccies was an astounding scientific achievement. That so many people did not take advantage of it and died needlessly, causing grief and hardship for their loved ones, is a tragedy.


  1. garnetstar says

    There’ve been so many stories of (white) people on their deathbeds asking for the vaccine or wishing they’d taken the vaccine. And, in many of those, their surviving relatives still refusing the vaccine for themselves and the rest of their family or friends.

    A cult, for sure.

  2. Silentbob says

    @ Marshall

    You mean Markdown. As I assume you have discovered HTML markup anchor tags work fine.

    To save others the bother of following the link, the claim the source is “flat out wrong” is complete bullshit. The link goes to a substack blog that claims that since white people have better health care and live longer, that explains the higher number of white deaths from COVID. Or something like that. It’s not clear what “age adjusted” is supposed to mean. But it certainly doesn’t show anything in the OP is “flat out wrong” or even wrong in any way whatsoever.

  3. robert79 says

    @ Silentbob

    ‘ It’s not clear what “age adjusted” is supposed to mean. ‘

    It means that if you check covid death rates per age group, then black people have higher death rates than white people. But because black people have a lower life expectancy, they die from other stuff before covid gets to them, so now you have a bunch of old white people skewing the uncorrected statistics.

    I wouldn’t call it “flat out wrong”… the base rate for white people is indeed higher, it’s just not the whole picture.

    (Credit: my take is heavily influenced by Andrew Gelman’s second post on this at https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2022/06/15/i-was-looking-through-the-wrong-end-of-the-telescope/)

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ 5 robert79
    Drat, you beat me to it. I was just about to link to Andrew Gelman’s post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *