Apr 25, 2023 - Health

Communities of color saw higher COVID death rates for younger adults

Average years of life lost prematurely
Data: Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

Communities of color experienced significantly higher premature death rates than white people during the pandemic and accounted for 59% of the years of life lost during the health crisis, according to a KFF analysis released on Monday.

Why it matters: Although individuals 75 and older had the highest risk of becoming seriously ill and dying from COVID-19, younger adults who had their lives cut short by the illness offer a window into racial disparities that the pandemic laid bare.

What they found: Between March 2020 and the end of 2022, the U.S. experienced nearly 1.7 million excess deaths, defined as fatalities beyond what would have been expected in a typical year that can be due directly or indirectly to COVID-19.

  • The increase in the premature death rate for Hispanic people (33%) was over twice that of white people (14%) from 2019 to 2022.
  • White people experienced an average of 12.5 years of life lost from premature deaths while Hispanics experienced 19.9 years of life lost and American Indian-Alaska Natives had 22 years of life lost before age 75.
  • AIAN people made up 3% of total years of life lost but just 1% of the population. Black people made up 26% of the total years of life lost but just 13% of the population, and Hispanic people accounted for 27% of years of life lost in contrast to 19% of the population.

Go deeper: Researchers said younger people of color were likelier to be exposed to the virus because of their jobs or living conditions.

  • Some groups of color also have higher rates of underlying conditions that may have increased the risk of severe illness and death.
  • And disparities in COVID-19 vaccination may have had varying effects throughout the course of the pandemic.
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