Mark Pfundheller promptly got his first two Covid-19 shots and a booster, his family said, knowing the disease was a threat related to treatment for an inflammatory disorder that compromised his immune system.
The 66-year-old former aviation consultant for Wisconsin’s Transportation Department caught the virus in April at a family wedding near his home in southern Wisconsin, where many guests were infected. Mr. Pfundheller died in a Madison, Wis., hospital on July 2 after an illness including time on a ventilator.
His was one of nearly 200,000 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. this year, according to death-certificate data. While the virus has become less risky for many thanks in part to immunity from vaccines and prior infections, it is still killing hundreds each day. Most are older people, and many have underlying health conditions and compromised immune systems, doctors said.
“I don’t think people realize that this is still a big deal,” Mr. Pfundheller’s daughter Jamie Pfundheller said.
The U.S. has recently averaged about 320 new Covid-19 deaths each day, and the average was above 400 before the Labor Day holiday weekend, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. The rate is far below pandemic peaks, including levels above 2,500 a day during the Omicron wave early this year. But the country hasn’t matched lows closer to 200 a day reached during a lull last year.
Roughly 85% of people who died from Covid-19 through mid-August this summer were 65 or older, a Wall Street Journal analysis of death-certificate data show. The rate is similar to 2020 peaks, before vaccines were available. Deaths trended younger for much of last year.
Covid-19 is on pace to be the third-leading cause of death for the third straight year, said Dr. Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Since 2020, it has trailed only heart disease and cancer, significantly reducing life expectancy.
The problem is this summer’s infections due to Omicron subvariants such as BA.5. Though case trends have recently eased, the consistently heavy volume has kept deaths elevated.
“If it’s attacking so many people on such a regular basis, unfortunately, some people will have severe illness and deaths,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, chief preparedness and continuity officer for Mass General Brigham, a Boston-area hospital system.