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United Way of Lancaster County


By the numbers: U.S. Covid-19 death rate No. 1 among wealthy countries; breakthrough cases climb


The United States is doing a much worse job of containing Covid-19 than its peer nations, and breakthrough cases are becoming an increasing concern, according to recent news reports.

The cumulative U.S. Covid-19 death rate is about 269 per 100,000 population, according to the website Our World in Data. That's the highest rate among large wealthy countries, the New York Times reported this week.

Many of the deaths are recent. Since Dec. 1, the beginning of the omicron wave, cumulative U.S. deaths per capita have run at least 63% higher than in comparable peer polities, the Times said.

Cumulative per-capita Covid-19 deaths for selected countries, plus the aggregate rate for high-income countries. (Source: Our World in Data)
Cumulative per-capita Covid-19 deaths for selected countries, plus the aggregate rate for high-income countries. (Source: Our World in Data)

The U.S. is poised to reach 900,000 confirmed deaths from coronavirus shortly. Devi Sridhar, head of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh, characterized the U.S. death rate to the Times as "eye-wateringly high."

"The only large European countries to exceed America’s Covid death rates this winter have been Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic, poorer nations where the best Covid treatments are relatively scarce," the Times said.

It cites the U.S.' low rate of vaccination, particularly its lagging rate of boosters. It also cites distrust of government and health authorities.

The latter is driven strongly by politics. In December, NPR reported that counties that voted 60% or more for President Trump in 2020 had Covid-19 death rates 2.73 times higher than counties that tilted comparably toward Joe Biden.

Partisanship is the "single strongest identifying predictor" of Covid-19 vaccination, NPR said.

Breakthrough cases

Meanwhile, although Covid-19 vaccines and boosters continue to provide significant protection against severe illness and death, breakthrough cases now make up more than 40% of Pennsylvania's total.

State data reported by LNP newspaper shows breakthrough cases climbing from 34,609 out of 135,098 (26%) in the 30 days ending Oct. 4 to 137,529 out of 329,700 (42%) in the 29 days ending Jan. 4.

The state says 25% of recent Covid-19 hospitalizations are breakthrough cases, as are 16% percent of deaths since the start of 2021.

Researchers say omicron is better at evading the immunity conferred by vaccination than earlier variants. Still, boosters cut the risk of contracting omicron by half, according to one recent study.

Crucially, the state's data does not separate out boosted patients in its data. In a mid-January presentation, Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, said boosters provide robust protection and that patients who have received them account for only 2% to 3% of LG Health's inpatients.