Deaths from COVID-19 will likely be the third leading causing of death this year in the U.S. and will contribute to a worse mortality gap between the U.S. and peer countries, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
More Americans have died from COVID-19 in 2020 than died in accidents in 2017, the third leading cause of death that year. By comparison, Belgium is the only one of 12 similarly wealthy nations that's seeing COVID-19 rank as a top three cause of death so far this year, according to the analysis. Additionally, the U.S.'s 2020 excess death rate, which illustrates death that exceeded the expected number of deaths, was 90.1 per 100,000 according to the most recent data, which is higher than all other peer countries.
The current excess death rate will likely widen the mortality rate gap the U.S. already has compared to other countries, said Cynthia Cox, an author of the analysis and vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The overall age-adjusted mortality rate of the U.S. in 2017 was 840.2 per 100,000, which is higher than the 693.4 average mortality rate of peer countries.
"We already know that the U.S. had a higher overall death rate prior to the pandemic and now that we are having excess mortality and we know that COVID-19 is driving most of the excess death, it becomes clear that the pandemic is likely going to make the gap in mortality rates between the U.S. and peer countries even wider than it already was," Cox said.
Other countries are on track to join Belgium and the U.S. in seeing COVID-19 rank third in deaths by the end of this year, the analysis also found.
COVID-19 is currently the fourth leading cause of death in Sweden, the United Kingdom and France. Sweden is close to seeing its death toll from COVID-19 rise enough to be the third highest cause of death, according to the analysis.
Sweden and the United Kingdom have responded similarly as the U.S. to COVID-19 so that's likely why both countries are seeing higher death tolls compared to peer nations, Cox said.
The analysis doesn't account for other conditions and causes of death this year. For instance, mental health challenges due to the pandemic may have led to rises in suicide or overdoses. At the same time, there are anecdotes from physicians that delaying care during the pandemic has led to unnecessary deaths from heart attacks and strokes, for example, Cox said.
Kaiser plans to do another similar analysis closer to the end of the year although Cox said she doesn't expect death from COVID-19 to surpass deaths from heart disease and cancer in the U.S. Heart disease was the leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2017, accounting for 712,715 lives, and cancer trailed behind at 599,136 lives.
"(COVID) is pretty solidly number three," Cox said.