Dan O’Donnell debunks the new narrative that COVID-19 is somehow as dangerous and deadly as the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
September 22, 2021
Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
Now that total American deaths from COVID-19 have matched those from the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu outbreak, a common refrain is that COVID is either as bad or worse than what was for more than a century the worst pandemic in U.S. history.
This is nonsensical. While it is true that both COVID-19 and Spanish Flu killed approximately 675,000 Americans, the population of the United States in 1918 was a third of what it is today. The Spanish Flu, therefore, killed 0.65 percent of the American population, while COVID-19 has killed 0.20 percent. Put another way, if COVID-19 killed Americans at the same rate that the Spanish Flu did, there would be 2.13 million dead.
Moreover, roughly 25 percent of the US population contracted Spanish Flu, which killed upwards of three percent of those it infected. COVID-19, by contrast, has infected 12.5 percent of the population and killed 1.6 percent of those who contracted it.
Spanish Flu deaths were also likely dramatically undercounted, while COVID deaths include those who died with the virus and not necessarily of it. The U.S. Census Bureau’s annual Mortality Statistics report for 1918 included only 31 states and the District of Columbia, which represented only about 75 percent of the total population.
States with larger populations such as Texas, West Virginia, Georgia, and Missouri did not have their mortality rates counted, so researchers looking to estimate a death toll simply added 25 percent to the 549,000 recorded deaths in the reporting states to arrive at the 675,000 total.
Needless to say, this isn’t the most accurate way of getting an accurate death toll, especially since the states that did report data did not count an estimated 50 percent of African American deaths. The states that didn’t report data were mainly in deep south—with higher African American populations—and thus African American deaths from the Spanish Flu were largely uncounted.
Not only was the death toll from Spanish Flu likely much higher, but it also killed on average far younger people than has COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average age of a Spanish Flu victim was just 28. The average age of a COVID-19 victim is between 75 and 80.
“Mortality [during the Spanish Flu outbreak] was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older,” the CDC notes. “The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20–40-year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic.”
COVID is simply not striking down healthy people in the prime of life the way Spanish Flu did, and unlike the Spanish Flu, it is essentially not killing children at all.
In fact, the seasonal flu appears just as deadly for children as COVID-19. A total of 439 children have died of COVID since the pandemic began in January of 2020, while 434 children died of the flu during the 2019-2020 flu season.
This was an especially deadly flu season, but it in no way compares to the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak…and neither does COVID-19. Though comparisons between the two pandemics may generate headlines and induce fear in the public, they simply are not in any way accurate.