COVID-19: A Story in One Image

We continue to be awash with COVID stories. But let us cut to the chase. How many annual COVID-19 deaths are the nation prepared to tolerate on a routine basis? Substantial public health efforts have been devoted to reducing these other causes of death; why should COVID be different? Reducing traffic accident deaths by mandating vehicle seat belts comes to mind, for which some 9000 lives were saved each year. How prepared are we to similarly enforce a comprehensive COVID-19 vaccination program?




What’s Going On? How Bad Is It?

I prepared an illustration to answer my question based on what we know and can be inferred, drawing upon two reported COVID-19 death counts, shown in red:  the total mortality from COVID for 2021 and the minimum observed daily rate (June 2021) converted to an annual basis.

Our previous analyses found that vaccination status was the best predictor of state and county-level COVID-19 deaths. Here I plotted the mean death count at the mean rate of full vaccinations and the inferred minimum count at 100% full vaccinations; the slope of that trend line is consistent with regression analyses. (Full disclosure: that slope may be weakening over time.) The diagonal line illustrates the COVID lives that might be saved each year with increased vaccination coverage.

The other data points are deaths attributable to other causes and are shown in black. Annual COVID deaths approach those attributable to heart disease, the nation’s 3rd largest cause of death, after cancer. According to this back-of-the-envelope analysis, if 100% vaccination could be achieved, the annual lives lost to COVID-19 would be about the same as those lost to diabetes. Would this be acceptable? Alternatively, a 90% vaccination rate would correspond to the deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s Disease; an 80% vaccination would reduce COVID deaths to the level of accidental deaths

I ask again, given these comparisons. How many annual COVID-19 deaths are the nation prepared to tolerate on a routine basis?