IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Covid was third-leading cause of death in U.S. once again in 2021

Covid was responsible for 13 percent of all deaths in the U.S. in 2021, up from 10 percent the year prior.
A registered nurse  attaches a "COVID Patient" sticker on a body bag of a patient who died of coronavirus at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, on Dec. 14, 2021.
A registered nurse attaches a "Covid Patient" sticker on a body bag of a patient who died of coronavirus at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on Dec. 14.Jae C. Hong / AP file

For the second year in a row, Covid was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Friday.

Covid was the underlying cause of more than 415,000 deaths in 2021, or 13 percent of the national total, the report found. That's an increase from 10 percent in 2020. Per capita, Covid death rates increased among every age group in 2021 except those 85 and older.

In both 2020 and 2021, the only conditions that killed more people than Covid were heart disease, which caused 693,000 deaths last year, and cancer, at 605,000 deaths in 2021. The data is provisional, though, so the numbers could change as the CDC collects more information. The Covid tally also doesn't include 45,000 deaths for which the coronavirus was a contributing factor rather than an underlying cause.

Last year, the U.S. saw its highest overall age-adjusted death rate since 2003, with nearly 842 deaths per 100,000 people — a slight increase from 2020. An early analysis, which has not yet been peer reviewed, found that the country's life expectancy dropped even further in 2021, following a loss of around two years in 2020.

Although flu and pneumonia together ranked as the ninth leading cause of death in 2020, they dropped out of the top 10 in 2021. Meanwhile, suicide became the 10th leading cause of death last year, up from 12th the year prior.

Covid death rates in 2021 were highest among older Americans, men, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and American Indian and Alaska Native populations, according to the CDC report. Year over year, however, Covid death rates declined among Hispanic, Black and Asian people.

The total number of Black Americans who died of Covid fell from 56,000 in 2020 to 55,000 in 2021. Meanwhile, Covid deaths among white people rose from 209,000 to 268,000.

Overall, racial and ethnic disparities in age-adjusted Covid death rates narrowed from 2020 to 2021, according to a second CDC report. That report compared the death rates of various groups to that of multiracial people, who had the lowest rate in both 2020 and 2021. The results showed that the gap decreased for all groups except Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in 2021.

The researchers attributed this change to "the widespread impact of effective interventions, including vaccination."