Elderly Still Make Up Most of the COVID-19 Deaths

Ralph Ellis

May 27, 2022

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The number of daily COVID-19 deaths is dropping in the United States, but one fact has not changed in two-plus years of the pandemic: The elderly are still most at risk of dying from the virus.

The seven-day moving average of COVID-related deaths is now 288, a number far lower than the peaks of over 2,600 in early February and 3,400 in mid-January 2021, according to CDC data.

The large majority of those deaths have been concentrated in people over age 65, The Wall Street Journal reported. Two weeks ago, the U.S. passed the 1 million mark in COVID deaths. About three quarters of those deaths happened to people over 65 years old, The Wall Street Journal said. That age group only makes up about 16% of the U.S. population.

Older people and the immunocompromised will always be vulnerable to all forms of disease, including COVID, health authorities say.

"We see the same thing with flu and pneumonia," Barbara Resnick, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and a geriatric nurse practitioner, told the newspaper. "Any disease, an older adult is going to be at greater risk of death, experiencing greater symptoms, just given other comorbidities."

The COVID vaccine put a big dent in COVID mortality, even for the elderly. Older people comprised 80% of COVID deaths in 2020 but only 60% of deaths during a surge of the Delta variant in the fall of 2021, The Wall Street Journal said, citing CDC data. 

During the Omicron surge last winter, the elderly made up about three quarters of the deaths, the newspaper said. That may have been because of waning vaccine immunity and because Omicron appears to be more resistant to vaccines.

Health experts say the elderly could help themselves by getting a second booster shot.

Among people in the U.S. over 65 years old, only 26.7% have gotten two booster shots, the CDC says, and 69.5% have gotten one booster shot. About 95% of those seniors have gotten one dose of vaccine, and 90.9% are classified as fully vaccinated.

What else can the elderly do to decrease their risk of death? Preeti Malani, MD, chief health officer at the University of Michigan, told The Wall Street Journal that families should have a quick plan for testing and access to Paxlovid, an oral antiviral pill designed to keep people becoming extremely sick if they do catch COVID. Families should also take precautions such as masking when case levels are rising.


CDC: "Trends in Number of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths in the US Reported to CDC, by State/Territory." "COVID-19: Vaccinations in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal: "Covid-19 Deaths Hover Near Lows, but Older Americans Still at Risk."


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