The 1918 influenza pandemic, also called the Spanish flu, is estimated to have killed 500 million people worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or about one-third of the global population. In the US, where the “unique feature” of the flu caused a lot of healthy people and those age 20-40 years old to die, around 675,000 Americans died, according to the CDC. This week, data reported by Johns Hopkins University show that the number of coronavirus deaths in the US surpassed 675,000 people.
Last week, the death toll reported by Johns Hopkins meant that around one in 500 Americans had died from the coronavirus. It also came at a time when many hospitals around the country, especially those in the South, reported that clinics are running out of open ICU beds.
Global deaths from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins, are estimated to be around 4.7 million. And while the official COVID-19 death counts in the US have been a hotly contested issue throughout the pandemic, especially in people who think the virus itself is exaggerated, others believe many countries are undercounting coronavirus deaths due to overwhelmed health systems, deaths occurring outside of hospitals and other factors in health care.
An important caveat to comparing deaths from the 1918 pandemic to the current COVID-19 pandemic is that the US population is much greater now than it was in the early 1900s. Back then, the US population was about one-third the size it is today, NPR and other outlets reported, so the gravity of the death toll was different.
But that doesn’t change the number of people who’ve died from the coronavirus, and the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 right now are in people who haven’t been vaccinated against it. Although breakthrough COVID-19 cases are happening and some fully vaccinated people have died, especially as the very contagious delta variant continues to spread around communities, unvaccinated people are about 10 times more likely to get hospitalized with COVID-19 and 11 times more likely to die from the disease than fully vaccinated people, according to a September report by the CDC.
In the US, there are three free COVID-19 vaccines available, and people age 12 and older can get one. One vaccine, Pfizer, has full FDA approval. According to CDC data, about 64% of people age 12 and older are vaccinated.