Apr. 23, 2022 -- COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the United States in 2021 for the second straight year, with only heart disease and cancer causing more deaths, the CDC said Friday.

About 693,000 people died of heart disease in 2021, with 605,000 dying of cancer and 415,000 of COVID, the CDC said, citing provisional data that might be updated later.

Unintentional injuries were the fourth-leading cause of death, increasing to 219,000 in 2021 from 201,000 in 2020. Influenza and pneumonia dropped out of the top 10 leading causes of death and suicide moved into 10th place.

Overall, about 3,458,697 deaths were reported in the U.S. last year. The age-adjusted death rate was 841.6 deaths per 100,000 people, an increase of .7% from 2020. The 2021 death rate was the highest since 2003, the CDC said.

The overall number of COVID deaths in 2021 increased around 20% over 2020, when around 384,000 people died from the virus, the CDC said. COVID deaths in 2021 peaked for the weeks ending Jan. 16 and Sept. 11, following holiday periods.

The demographics of COVID mortality changed slightly, the CDC said in a second report.

Blacks accounted for 13.3% of COVID deaths in 2021 and Hispanics 16.5%, down several percentage points from 2020, the CDC said. Asians made up 3.1% of COVID deaths for 2021, a drop from 3.6% in 2020. White people accounted for 65.2% of COVID deaths in 2021, an increase from 59.6% in 2020.

Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaskan Native and non-Hispanic Black or African American had the highest overall death rates for COVID, the CDC said.

Breaking the data down by age, the number of COVID deaths among people 75 and older dropped to 178,000 in 2021 from around 207,000 in 2020. The numbers went up in other age groups. Among people 65-75, about 101,000 died of COVID in 2021, up from around 76,000 in 2020.

“The results of both studies highlight the need for greater effort to implement effective interventions,” the CDC said in a statement. “We must work to ensure equal treatment in all communities in proportion to their need for effective interventions that can prevent excess COVID-19 deaths.”

Since the pandemic began, about 991,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-related causes, the most among all nations in the world.

Show Sources

CDC. “Provisional Mortality Data — United States, 2021”

CDC. “Provisional COVID-19 Age-Adjusted Death Rates, by Race and Ethnicity — United States, 2020–2021”

CDC. “COVID-19 Was Third Leading Cause of Death in U.S.”

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