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Covid-19 killed hundreds of frontline physicians, study finds.
Excess mortality among doctors was highest in the time prior to the vaccine rollout.
The Covid-19 pandemic killed hundreds of frontline physicians from March 2020 through December 2021, a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found.
It’s painful to think of anyone dying of Covid—but thinking about early deaths among my peers on the frontline somehow hits a little harder. These were not “merely” deaths that would have happened anyway but which were blamed on Covid. (Yes, doctors also sometimes died tragically young of cancer, even in the pre-Covid times.) These were all-cause excess deaths. These are deaths that should never have happened.
What that means is that researchers compared how many deaths normally would have occurred among practicing physicians if there had been no pandemic to how many died during the pandemic.
Among doctors ages 45-84 who were actively and directly treating patients, there were 285 more deaths during 2020-2021 than their would have been if the pandemic had not occurred. The relative increase was about 19%, which matches figures my team has seen among US residents overall.
Even among the younger doctors included in the study (ages 45-64), there were 15% more deaths than their should have been. Usually during a similar period, around 1 in 750 doctors in this “younger” age group would have been expected die from all causes combined. During the pandemic, it was more like 1 in 650. That’s enough to have killed around 81 doctors ages 45-64 who were providing direct patient care in the US.
As is so often the case with Covid data, those numbers fall into the “perfect” place for what you might call “quiet mayhem.” One death in 650 instead of one in 750 is not so many that the average person would “notice”—but enough that on a systemic level, it amounts to catastrophic losses (to say nothing of the individual tragedies).
The results could mean a few things. They could mean that doctors on the frontlines were not at much higher risk than the general population, perhaps thanks to PPE and behavioral choices. Or they could mean that our increased risk at on the frontlines (even with PPE) was offset by more conservative behavioral choices in our non-professional lives. But certainly the data mean that even doctors healthy enough to be working on the frontlines as care-providing physicians died of Covid in statistically measurable ways.
In addition, hundreds of excess deaths occurred among active physicians not providing direct clinical care, and thousands among those who were no longer actively in the profession (i.e., retired).
So, Covid-19 killed doctors who were still in practice, and far more who had served their communities for decades and who were, ostensibly, supposed to be enjoying their retirement.