‘Enormous impact’ of coronavirus translates to 2.5 million years of potential life lost: study 

The study author quantified the absence of human life forfeited to COVID-19

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Coronavirus has led to a staggering loss of life in a brief amount of time, killing over 220,000 people in the U.S. this year. 

However, a new study suggests the disease’s societal impact extends far beyond estimated death counts. Years of active, productive life were forfeited to COVID-19, one researcher said, finding the U.S. death toll translates to over 2.5 million years of potential life lost. 

Dr. Stephen Elledge, study author and professor at Harvard Medical School, said the profound loss of life imposes emotional and economic burdens on victims’ loved ones.

“Who among us would not cherish another 5 years together with a father, mother, son, daughter or close friend?” he wrote.


Elledge essentially quantified the absence left behind by COVID-19 and drew his results from data on life expectancy and mortality from the Social Security Administration and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Findings were posted this week in medRxiv ahead of peer review.

“This is an astounding cost and surprising given the apparent public misperception that COVID-19 is a disease that disproportionately impacts the elderly and is somehow of less concern to the rest of society,” Elledge wrote. “This misunderstanding is a result of a failure to appreciate the fact that individuals considered elderly still have substantial remaining life expectancies relative to the life expectancy at birth.”

The study results may emphasize the importance of keeping people of all ages safe from coronavirus infection. (iStock)

The study results may emphasize the importance of keeping people of all ages safe from coronavirus infection. (iStock)

Nearly half (roughly 45%) of potential years lost occurred in people under 65, per the study. While coronavirus fatalities occur far less often in younger populations, complications do happen and death can take decades off a young person’s projected life span.

Older adults and those with underlying medical conditions are considered to be at an increased risk for severe illness, according to the CDC. In the United States, eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths are among adults aged 65 years and older.

In Elledge’s study, nearly 1.2 million years were lost among those younger than 65, and older adults accounted for the remaining 1.4 million years forfeited to the disease.

However, there are possible sources of error in the data. For example, life expectancies vary across ethnicities in the U.S. population, and this factor was not fully accounted for in the analysis.

Lacking statistics on comorbidities also create a source of error in the data. Health issues like obesity, chronic kidney disease and diabetes can result in shorter life expectancies, and since the analysis could not fully take this into account, some of the calculations may be “artificially increased.” 

Fox News’ Alexandria Hein contributed to this article.