Covid death toll in US surpasses that of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic

The influenza pandemic in 1918 killed over 50 million people globally

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Tuesday 21 September 2021 07:44
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Deaths related to Covid-19 in America have surpassed the toll of the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed 675,000 people, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

US recorded over 676,000 deaths since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, crossing the estimated 675,000 deaths from last century's influenza pandemic.

Ravaged by the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, the country is now reporting at least 2,000 deaths a day on average, the highest since March 2021.

States such as Florida, Texas, California, Mississippi and Alabama have reported the most number of Covid-related deaths so far.

The overwhelming number of fatalities have been seen as an indicator that the US government has failed to vaccinate most of the country’s eligible population.

While the country and the world at large have made leaps in scientific knowledge since the 1918 pandemic, several challenges, including widespread vaccine hesitancy and poor leadership in communicating the benefits of vaccines, are said to have prolonged the pandemic.

"Big pockets of American society – and, worse, their leaders – have thrown this (opportunity to vaccinate the eligible) away,” medical historian Dr Howard Markel of the University of Michigan told the Associated Press.

The 1918 pandemic, considered to be one of the worst in human history, killed 50 million people globally. This was at a time when the world's population was only a quarter of today's number. The global toll from the Covid pandemic stands at over 4.6 million currently.

The US, which had fewer people then, had a greater death rate from the influenza pandemic.

Compounding the problem was the fact that there were no vaccines available at the time, with non-pharmaceutical interventions like quarantining and isolation being used to control the spread of the disease.

The 1918 pandemic was often incorrectly labeled the Spanish flu because this was where the disease was first reported, but was not its origin.

The disease was spread during the First World War and caused high mortality among young adults. The lack of vaccines only made it worse, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20- to 40-year age group, was a unique feature of this (1918) pandemic,” the CDC said in a report.

The complications around Covid-19, especially from some of its variants like the Delta, have led to a spike in infections among minors in the US.

“COVID-NET data show hospitalisation rates for children are surging. For the week ending 28 August, the Covid-19 hospitalisation rate for children aged four years and younger was the highest recorded,” the CDC warned.

The US started vaccinating its population against the coronavirus in mid-December, just nine months after the disease was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

Millions of Americans, however, have shown vaccine hesitancy, making them prone to virus-related deaths. Over eight months down the line, just 64 per cent of eligible Americans have been administered one dose of the vaccine.

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