In coming years, families around the world will be reminded of what happened in January 2021 by gaps in photo albums, saved video chats or text message threads, and in some cases, tragically, empty seats at future weddings. But in the history books, the pandemic’s impact will be traced in terms of milestones, including one passed on Friday: 2 million people have died from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The novel coronavirus has caused the deadliest global epidemic since the emergence of HIV/AIDS 40 years ago, and the deadliest respiratory pandemic in a century.
Worldwide, some 12,000 to 13,000 people have died from COVID-19 every day over the past week. Deaths have been increasing steadily since October, when about 5,500 people were dying per day globally.
The staggering number of deaths from COVID-19 intensifies the urgency of global efforts to distribute coronavirus vaccines.
In the U.S. and other countries, efforts to distribute the vaccine have been hampered by supply chain limitations and other logistical problems. The World Health Organization has repeatedly warned that distributing vaccines equitably across counties will be necessary to stop the spread of the pandemic, although 95% of the vaccines distributed so far have been handed out in just 10 countries, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said Thursday. Newly discovered mutations of the virus, including the variant initially found in the U.K., and since spread to multiple countries including the U.S. threaten to drive the death toll up even higher; the U.K. variant is thought to spread 70% more quickly, which could lead more vulnerable people to becoming infected.
More U.S. resident have died after contracting COVID-19 than in any other country. Over 389,000 Americans have died from the virus, followed by Brazil, with more than 207,000 deaths, and India, with nearly 152,000. The U.S. also leads the world by number of reported infections; more than 23.3 million people have been infected with the virus. COVID-19 was likely the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020; when preliminary numbers from last year are compared to 2018, they suggest more U.S. residents died from COVID-19 in 2020 than from strokes, accidents or Alzheimer’s disease.
Achieving herd immunity to protect people from COVID-19 through vaccination is still a long way off. In the U.S., less than 3% of the population has been vaccinated so far, while experts estimate that at least 75% of people would need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Therefore, stopping more deaths from COVID-19 in the coming weeks will require individuals to keep taking the steps experts say are needed to stop the virus’ spread: staying home, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distance from one another.