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COVID Excess Mortality Percentage, Racial/Ethnic Disparities in COVID Mortality, and Vaccine Effectiveness: Evidence from Linked Mortality and Vaccination Records (WP-22-31)

Vladimir Atanasov, Paula Natalia Barreto Parra, Lorenzo Franchi, Jeffrey Whittle, John Meurer, Qian (Eric) Luo, Ruohao Zhang, and Bernard Black

COVID-19 mortality rates rise strongly with age, but so do other natural causes of death.  The researchers develop a new measure of the COVID-19 mortality burden, the COVID Excess Mortality Percentage (CEMP), defined as COVID-19 deaths as a fraction of all deaths from natural causes other than COVID. They use this measure to study COVID-19 mortality in Indiana and Wisconsin, including racial/ethnic disparities in mortality rates. They find very high disparities, especially in 2020, with CEMP ratios for Hispanics to non-Hispanic Whites as high as 9:1 for ages 50–59. They find very different CEMP patterns by age and race/ethnicity, in the pre-vaccine period (2020) and the vaccine-available period (April 2021–March 2022).

The researchers also report data on vaccine effectiveness (VE) in Milwaukee County, where they can link individual death records to vaccination records. Measuring VE based on CEMP controls for the potential for the vaccinated to be healthier and hence face lower COVID mortality risk without vaccination. VE measured this way is substantially lower than reported in many other studies (e.g., 60% for fully vaccinated (but not boosted) adults during 1Q 2022 (Omicron-dominant period) and 71% during 4Q 2021 (Delta-dominant period). Three-vaccine-dose VE is much higher, at around 90%, and similar for Moderna and Pfizer, but COVID mortality risk after two Pfizer doses is over twice the two-dose Moderna risk. The gap between two-dose and three-dose VE implies that tens of thousands of COVID decedents would likely have survived with a faster booster rollout.

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Vladimir Atanasov, Brinkley-Mason Term Professor of Business, William & Mary

Paula Natalia Barreto Parra, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Lorenzo Franchi, Pritzker School of Law, Northwestern University

Jeffrey Whittle, Professor of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin

John Meurer, Professor of Pediatrics and Community Health, Medical College of Wisconsin

Qian (Eric) Luo, Assistant Research Professor, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University

Ruohao Zhang, Postdoctoral Scholar, Northwestern University School of Law

Bernard Black, Nicholas J. Chabraja Professor and IPR Associate, Northwestern University

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