The US death toll from COVID-19 has hit 900,000, less than two months after eclipsing 800,000 – propelled in part by the wildly contagious Omicron variant.
The two-year total, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of Indianapolis, San Francisco, or Charlotte, North Carolina.
The milestone comes more than 13 months into a vaccination drive that has been beset by misinformation and political and legal strife, though the shots have proved safe and highly effective at preventing serious illness and death.
“It is an astronomically high number. If you had told most Americans two years ago as this pandemic was getting going that 900,000 Americans would die over the next few years, I think most people would not have believed it,” said Dr Ashish K Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
He noted most of the deaths happened after the vaccine gained authorisation.
“We got the medical science right. We failed on the social science. We failed on how to help people get vaccinated, to combat disinformation, to not politicise this,” Jha said.
“Those are the places where we have failed as America.”
Just 64 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, or about 212 million Americans, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have underestimated our enemy here, and we have under-prepared to protect ourselves,” said Dr Joshua M Sharfstein, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“We’ve learned a tremendous amount of humility in the face of a lethal and contagious respiratory virus.”
Nor is COVID-19 finished with the United States. Dr Andrew Noymer, a professor of public health at the University of California at Irvine, predicted the US would hit one million deaths by March 1.
While Omicron is loosening its grip on the US, with new cases plunging in recent weeks and the number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 turning downward, deaths are running at more than 2400 per day on average – the highest level since last winter.
Despite its wealth and its world-class medical institutions, the US has the highest reported toll of any country, and even then, the real number of lives lost directly or indirectly to the coronavirus is thought to be significantly higher.