The World Health Organization on Thursday released new estimates that show nearly 15 million people in the world have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — or roughly three times more than the number of coronavirus deaths officially reported.
About 14.9 million people around the world died as a “direct or indirect result” of COVID-19 — or what the WHO refers to as “excess mortality” — between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, far more than the 5.4 million coronavirus deaths officially reported to the global health body during that span.
According to WHO, excess mortality is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would typically be expected in non-pandemic years. (The estimated range of excess deaths was 13.3 million to 16.6 million over the 24-month period, according to that methodology.)
The 14.9 million figure includes people who died from complications due to COVID-19 as well as indirect deaths, such as people who did or could not seek treatment for other serious conditions due to the strain that the pandemic put on health care systems.
“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement.
About 84% of the excess deaths were concentrated in Europe, Southeast Asia and North and South America.
The excess death toll was higher among men (57%) and people above the age of 60 (82%).
The release of the new data comes as the United States is bracing for another grim pandemic milestone: 1 million COVID-19 deaths.
According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 996,000 Americans have died of complications from the virus. And there have been more than 81 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. to date.