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Expand chart
Data: CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

COVID-19 was an underlying cause associated with approximately 345,000 deaths during 2020, making it the third-leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer, two new CDC reports on preliminary mortality data show.

Why it matters: The estimated death rate increased by nearly 16% from 2019, with mortality highest among older people, men or people from disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority groups.

The big picture: The highest numbers of overall deaths and COVID-19 deaths came during April and December. COVID-19 was reported as the underlying cause of death or a contributing cause of death for an estimated 377,883 of total deaths.

  • COVID-19 was the third-leading underlying cause of death in 2020, replacing suicide as one of the top 10 leading causes of death.
  • Hispanic and American Indian or Alaska Native persons had the highest COVID-19 death rates.

Background: Concerns have been raised that some death certificates were being improperly attributed to COVID-19 and inflated deaths, another report notes.

  • The CDC assessed hundreds of thousands of death certificates as of February 2021 and confirmed 97% had a co-occurring diagnosis that was a plausible chain-of-event condition to COVID-19 like pneumonia or respiratory failure or a significant contributing condition like hypertension or diabetes.
  • Only 5.5% of death certificates had COVID-19 without any other conditions listed.

Noteworthy: The data are provisional and subject to change as the National Center for Health Statistics learns more.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that COVID-19 was an underlying cause associated with approximately 345,000 deaths. When tallied with the deaths for which COVID-19 was a contributing factor, that number is estimated to be 377,883.

Go deeper

Mar 31, 2021 - Health

Pfizer says COVID vaccine was 100% effective in trial of children ages 12 to 15

Photo: Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Wednesday that their coronavirus vaccine was found to be 100% effective at protecting against COVID-19 in a trial of more than 2,200 children between the ages of 12 and 15.

The big picture: Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the companies plan to submit clinical trial data to the FDA for emergency use authorization in the coming weeks, with the hope of vaccinations for adolescents beginning before the start of the next school year.

Mar 31, 2021 - Health

Advocates warn: The clock is ticking on new variants

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some experts say the world may only have a year or less to stave off a new round of COVID-19 variants that could evade the existing vaccines, according to survey conducted by advocates trying to speed up vaccinations in developing nations.

Why it matters: Variants emerge when viruses spread widely, so quickly vaccinating the entire world is the best way to curb new variants. But some experts are afraid we won't get there fast enough.