COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2021, accounting for approximately 13.3% (460,513) of US deaths from January to December 2021, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The CDC reports that, in 2021, approximately 3,458,697 deaths occurred in the United States, with COVID-19 reported as the underlying cause or a contributing cause in an estimated 460,513 (13.3%) of those deaths (111.4 deaths per 100,000).

COVID-19 Mortality Statistics

For the second consecutive year, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death by underlying cause in the US, behind heart disease (#1) and cancer (#2). From 2020 to 2021, the age-adjusted death rate (AADR) increased by 0.7%, from 835.4 to 841.6 per 100,000 standard population, according to the CDC report.

Approximately 60,000 more people died of COVID in 2021 compared to 2020, the report states.

The highest overall death rates by age occurred among persons aged ≥85 years, and the highest overall AADRs by sex and race and ethnicity occurred among males and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN) and non-Hispanic Black or African American (Black) populations. COVID-19 death rates were highest among persons aged ≥85 years, non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (NH/OPI) and AI/AN populations, and males.

Mortality Disparities

A second report released in the MMWR found differences in death rates still remain between certain racial and ethnic minority groups.

From 2020 to 2021, differences in COVID-19 death rates decreased among most racial and ethnic groups. This report found disparities in the age-adjusted COVID-19 death rates decreased by 14%–40% for most racial and ethnic groups, including non-Hispanic White people, who accounted for 60%–65% of all people who died; and increased non-significantly (7.2%) for non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander persons (0.2%–0.3% of people who died) compared with non-Hispanic multiracial people.

The results of both studies highlight the need for greater effort to implement effective interventions. We must work to ensure equal treatment in all communities in proportion to their need for effective interventions that can prevent excess COVID-19 deaths.

COVID-19 Third Leading Cause of Death