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Global COVID-19 Death Toll Hits 6 Million as Pandemic Enters Third Year

COVID-19 cremation
A cremation ceremony for COVID-19 victims. The global COVID-19 death toll, compiled by John Hopkins University, stood at 6,001,907, on Monday — a sign of the unrelenting pandemic. Credit: Anis Mujahid Akbar, via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

On Monday, the global COVID-19 death toll eclipsed six million.

The milestone is the largest reminder of the unrelenting nature of the pandemic, even as people start shedding their masks and travel resumes. The death toll, compiled by John Hopkins University, stood at 6,001,907, as of Monday at 11:20 a.m. ET.

“This is a disease of the unvaccinated”

Death rates worldwide are still highest among people who are unvaccinated against the virus.

“This is a disease of the unvaccinated,” said Tikki Pang, a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore’s medical school and co-Chair of the Asia Pacific Immunization Coalition, in an interview with the AP. “The large majority of the deaths and the severe cases are in the unvaccinated, vulnerable segment of the population.”

It took the world seven months to record its first million deaths from the virus after the pandemic began in early 2020. Four months later, another million people had died, and one million have died every three months since the death toll hit five million at the end of October. Now it has reached six million — more than the populations of Berlin and Brussels combined — roughly six months later.

World hit six millionth COVID-19 death some time ago

Despite the official figure, the world undoubtedly hit its six millionth death some time ago. Poor record-keeping and testing in many parts of the world has led to an undercount in COVID-19 deaths, in addition to excess deaths related to the pandemic but not from actual COVID-19 infections, such as people who died from preventable causes but could not receive treatment because hospitals were full.

When countries’ excess mortality figures are studied as many as nearly four times the reported death toll have likely died because of the pandemic, said Edouard Mathieu, head of data for the Our World in Data portal, in an interview with AP.

An analysis of excess deaths by a team at The Economist estimates that the number of COVID-19 deaths is between 14 million and 23.5 million.

“Confirmed deaths represent a fraction of the true number of deaths due to COVID, mostly because of limited testing, and challenges in the attribution of the cause of death,” Mathieu said. “In some, mostly rich, countries that fraction is high and the official tally can be considered to be fairly accurate, but in others it is highly underestimated.”

The world has seen more than 445 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and new weekly cases have been declining recently in all regions except for the Western Pacific, the World Health Organization reported this week.

Only 6.95% of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated

Global vaccine disparity continues, with only 6.95% of people in low-income countries fully vaccinated, compared to more than 73% in high-income nations, according to Our World in Data.

In a good sign, at the end of last month, Africa surpassed Europe in the number of doses administered daily, but only about 12.5% of its population has received two shots thus far.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still pressing for more vaccines, though it has been a challenge: Some shipments arrive with little warning for countries’ health systems and others near the expiration date, forcing doses to be destroyed.

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