What’s Killing Men Ages 18-39?

The all-cause mortality rate in 2021 for men in the US ages 18-39 was about 40% higher than the average of 2018 and 2019. That’s a huge increase, especially for a group that is not in the high-risk category for COVID-19. What’s causing it?

Some have suggested that heart disease deaths, perhaps induced by the COVID vaccines, is the cause. This is not just a fringe internet theory by anonymous Twitter accounts. The Surgeon General of Florida has said this is true.

What do the data say? The first thing we can look at is heart disease deaths for men ages 18-39.

The data I’m using is from the CDC WONDER database. This database aggregates data from US states, using a standardized system of reporting deaths. The most important thing to know is that in this database, each death can one have one underlying cause, and this is indicated on the death certificate. Deaths can also have multiple contributing causes (and most deaths do), and the database allows you to search for those too. But for this analysis, I’m only looking at the underlying cause.

Here’s the heart disease death data for men ages 18-39, presented two different ways. First the trailing 12-month average. Don’t focus too much on that dip at the end, since the most recent data is incomplete. Instead, notice three things. First, there was a clear increase in heart disease deaths. Second, that rise began in mid-2020, well before the introduction of vaccines. Third, once vaccines started being administered to this age group in Spring 2021, the number of deaths leveled off (though it didn’t return to pre-pandemic levels).

Here’s another way of looking at the data: 12-month time periods, rather than a trailing average. I created 12-month time periods starting in March and ending in February of the following year. I’ve also truncated the y-axis to show more detail, not to trick you. But don’t be tricked! The deaths are up 2-3%, not a more than doubling as the chart appears to show.

We can see in the chart above that the rise in heart disease deaths for young males completely preceded the vaccination period. Something changed, for sure, but the change wasn’t the introduction of vaccines. Heart disease deaths (by underlying cause) are only up 2-3%, while overall deaths are up around 40%.

So, to repeat the title question, what is killing these young men?

To answer that question, we need to look beyond just heart disease deaths. We need to look at all of the causes of deaths. The table below does just that.

Heart disease deaths are the 6th leading cause on this list. But they were also the 5th leading cause before the pandemic (COVID-19 jumped into the list ahead of heart disease). And notice they are barely up in 2021 over 2020, consistent with the charts above.

From the 9 causes of death in this table, we can account for 90% of the excess deaths in 2021 (both compared to 2018/19 and compared to 2020). Furthermore, over 80% of the excess deaths can be accounted by just 5 categories of deaths: drug ODs, COVID-19, homicides, suicides, and car accidents. All of these deaths are tragic. They are all up sharply. Drug ODs are up 57% over pre-pandemic! The smaller category of liver diseases is up 82%!

We have some major social issues contributing to these deaths. Some of these only appeared during the pandemic, but drug ODs had been rising for years (though nothing like we saw in the pandemic). These are clearly social problems that need to be addressed. But they appear to have little to nothing to do with the administration of COVID-19 vaccines, which continue to be both safe and effective.

3 thoughts on “What’s Killing Men Ages 18-39?

  1. James Bailey November 2, 2022 / 5:37 pm

    Covid + Covid lockdowns? One obvious paper I haven’t seen yet is whether ‘deaths from despair’ rose faster in states with longer/stronger lockdowns


  2. Scott Buchanan November 4, 2022 / 7:22 pm

    Great article.

    And why are drug deaths up so much? I think one factor is mainly driving this: it’s not that people are taking so much more drugs, rather, it is the lacing of drugs with fentanyl. I know of two middle class young men who died taking what they thought was a normal dose of rec drugs, but they had fentanyl added somewhere along the drug supply chain. Very sad.

    My first hit on a web search on this topic: “More adults between 18 and 45 died of fentanyl overdoses in 2020 than COVID-19, motor vehicle accidents, cancer and suicide ”
    (and this: “…Experts recommend people who use any kind of drug carry Narcan, a lifesaving medicine also known as naloxone, which has the ability to reverse symptoms of an overdose and potentially save lives”)


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