1. Epidemiology and Global Health
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Mortality: A comprehensive look at the COVID-19 pandemic death toll

  1. Lone Simonsen  Is a corresponding author
  2. Cecile Viboud
  1. PandemiX Center, Institute of Science and Environment, Roskilde University, Denmark
  2. Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, United States
Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e71974 doi: 10.7554/eLife.71974
1 table


Table 1
Estimates of global excess mortality for five pandemics.

Estimates of the global per capita excess mortality rate (row 2), the number of global excess deaths adjusted to 2020 population (row 3), and the mean age at death (row 4) for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (column 2) and the influenza pandemics of 2009, 1968, 1957 and 1918 (columns 3–6). Each study used different statistical models, assumptions and country data. The levels of mortality in non-participating countries were estimated using various extrapolation/imputation strategies.

Per capita excess mortality rate>0.08%60.005%0.03%0.04%1.0%
Global excess deaths adjusted to 2020 population>6 million60.4 million2.2 million3.1 million75 million
Mean age at death (years)70737626527
  1. 1Karlinsky and Kobak, 2021. 103 wealthier countries; an under-reporting factor of 1.4 was applied.

    2Simonsen et al., 2013. Based on 2009 data from 20 countries covering approximately 35% of the world population and using an allcause imputation method that uses 10 factors. Estimates based on 300,000–400,000 pandemic excess deaths from all causes.

  2. 3CDC, 2019. Based on 1 million excess deaths in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and France.

    4Viboud et al., 2016. For the entire pandemic period (1957–1959), using data from 39 countries; extrapolated globally based on GDP, latitude and baseline death rate.

  3. 5Murray et al., 2006. 13 countries or regions for the entire pandemic period between 1918–1920; allcause mortality; extrapolated by GDP, latitude; (62 million deaths in 2004 population).

    Based on the official COVID-19 global death toll as of 11/8/2021 multiplied by 1.4 to allow account for underreporting (Karlinsky and Kobak, 2021). This is an underestimate as the 103 participating countries in this study are wealthier, but harder-hit populous countries like India (which may account for approximately 4 million excess deaths) are not included. Also, the burden is incomplete because the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over.

  4. 7The COVID-19 pandemic mainly kills the elderly, but the exact mean age of deaths is not currently known. Mean age at death is likely lower in middle-income countries: for example, it is reported to be 60 years in South Africa (Guimarães et al., 2021; Statistics South Africa, 2020).

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