The CDC released a new report last month about the affect COVID-19 is having on American Indians and Alaska Natives, particularly the mortality rate. The percentage of COVID-19 deaths for Natives aged 60 and younger was 35.1 percent compared to 6.3 percent of deaths among non-Hispanic Whites. Based on data from 14 participating states, age-adjusted COVID-19-associated mortality among Native people was 1.8 times that among non-Hispanic Whites.
Although COVID-19 mortality rates increased with age among both Native and White persons, the disparity was largest among those aged 20-49 years. Mortality rates among Native persons were higher than those among White persons in all age groups except the oldest age group. Among persons aged 20-29 years, 30-39 years, and 40-49 years, the COVID-19 mortality rates among Native persons were 10.5, 11.6, and 8.2 times those among White persons, respectively. Overall, Native people who died from COVID-19 were younger than were White persons: 35.1 percent of Native COVID-19-associated deaths were among persons age 60 or younger, compared with 6.3 percent of deaths among White persons.
Native people have experienced disproportionate rates of infection and mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic. The excess risk, especially for Native men and persons aged 20-49 years, should be considered when planning and implementing medical countermeasures and other prevention activities.
The CDC’s latest finding is consistent with those from a similar study assessing pandemic influenza A(H1N1)-related mortality. Long-standing inequities in public funding; infrastructure; and access to health care, education, stable housing, healthy foods, and insurance coverage have contributed to health disparities (including higher prevalence of smoking, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease) that put Indigenous people at higher risk for severe COVID-19-associated illness.
In 2009, Native people experienced disproportionately high pandemic influenza A(H1N1)-associated mortality. Concerns of a similar trend during the COVID-19 pandemic led to the formation of a workgroup to assess the prevalence of COVID-19 deaths in the Native population. Evidence that Native communities might be at increased risk for COVID-19 illness and death demonstrates the importance of documenting and understanding the reasons for these disparities while developing collaborative approaches with federal, state, municipal, and tribal agencies to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on Native communities. Together, public health partners can plan for medical countermeasures and prevention activities for Native communities.