COVID-19 was the No. 1 killer of Americans age 35 to 54 last month, and No. 2 overall

COVID-19 was the No. 1 leading cause of death in the U.S. in January, at the peak of last winter's brutal coronavirus surge, but then vaccines became widely available and it dropped to No. 7 by July, the Kaiser Family Foundation says in a new analysis of COVID-19 fatalities. Then the Delta variant hit and found ample unvaccinated Americans to kick COVID-19 back up to the No. 2 killer in August and September, the leading cause of death for Americans age 35 to 54, and even the sixth or seventh leading cause of death for children.

COVID-19 Deaths

(Image credit: Kaiser Family Foundation)

COVID-19 Deaths by Age

(Image credit: Kaiser Family Foundation)

In September, "COVID-19 took the lives of 1,899 people per day on average," KFF writes. "By comparison, heart disease, which is typically the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. each year, leads to the death of about 2,000 Americans per day, and cancer claims about 1,600 American lives per day." Deaths are declining now, but "an average of over 1,600 people per day continued to die of COVID-19 in the first week of October," KFF said, "even as safe and effective vaccines have been free and widely available to adults in all states and D.C. since early May."

KFF also calculated that about 90,000 Americans who died of COVID-19 from June through September would still be alive if they had gotten vaccinated, including 49,000 people in September alone. "The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths continue to be preventable," KFF says.

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Excess COVID-19 deaths

(Image credit: Kaiser Family Foundation)

As of Oct. 7, about 78 percent of U.S. adults 18 and older have gotten at least one vaccine dose, KFF says, and more than 50 million adults remain unvaccinated. "In the first months after the vaccine rollout, Black Americans were far less likely than white Americans to be vaccinated," The New York Times reports. "But a wave of pro-vaccine campaigns and a surge of virus hospitalizations and deaths this summer, mostly among the unvaccinated and caused by the highly contagious Delta variant, have narrowed the gap," erasing it in low-vaccination states like Alabama, North Carolina, and Mississippi.

If Mississippi — where 1 of every 300 residents has died of COVID 19 — were a country, it would have the world's third-highest per capita death rate, Times reporter Mike Baker noted. He also estimates that nearly 500,000 fewer Americans would have died of COVID-19 if the U.S. had managed to keep its fatality rate on par with Canada.

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