- AMERICAN INSTITUTE FOR ECONOMIC RESEARCH - Jan 1, 2021 -
On Dec. 16 the top-ranked Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a headline-grabbing article about the risks that Covid poses to young people. The article and an accompanying New York Times piece by its authors strongly implied that people under the age of 45 face a high risk from the disease and, furthermore, this risk is understated by official statistics.
This claim runs counter to the CDC’s own estimated Infection Fatality Ratios by age group, which suggest that the two youngest demographic groups (0-20 and 21-49) face a mortality risk that is lower than seasonal influenza. Covid fatalities increase dramatically with age, and persons over 70 face a pronounced risk. However young people face comparatively low risk. Indeed, CDC data show that persons under the age of 40 account for less than 2% of Covid fatalities despite also making up half of all known cases to date.
The JAMA study, however, contends that Covid deaths for persons under age 45 are severely underreported. To reach this conclusion they turn to excess death statistics for March through July 2020, as recently released by the CDC. They compare these figures to excess death estimates from the same months in 2018 to establish a baseline. Since opioid overdoses typically rank as a leading killer among this demographic, they use 2018 opioid deaths as a point of comparison. As the authors then assert:
“Deaths due to COVID-19 exceeded 2018 unintentional opioid deaths during 1 month in 2020 in HHS Region 2 (April), HHS region 6 (July), and HHS region 9 (July), and either exceeded (HHS Region 6) or were similar to (HHS Regions 2 and 9) unintentional opioid deaths during the entire study period.”
By implication, Covid has overtaken opioid overdoses as a leading killer among the young, thereby illustrating its risk to this age group. The national news media predictably bit at the story, and produced a flurry of articles announcing that young people face a higher Covid risk than conventionally thought. CBS News, for example, declared that “Young adults may think their age group isn’t at risk from COVID-19, but new research suggests that idea is dangerously mistaken.”
The JAMA study however contained a little-noticed caveat in a single sentence at the end of the article: