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The U.S. Has Hit 600,000 COVID Deaths, More Than Any Other Country

More than 15 months since the first confirmed death due to COVID-19 in the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 600,000 lives across the country.

But that trend has slowed from thousands to hundreds per day in recent weeks, thanks largely to the ready availability of vaccines.

Over the winter, the nation was adding about 100,000 deaths each month. But as more and more people were vaccinated — particularly older Americans — the death rate fell precipitously. There are now about 375 deaths per day on average — down from more than 3,000 per day in January.

Worldwide, the U.S. still is reporting the greatest total deaths, followed by Brazil, India and Mexico. The total global death toll stands at 3.8 million.

The U.S. death toll, according to Johns Hopkins University, stood at 600,012 on Tuesday afternoon.

Even so, the cumulative number of deaths in the country clearly shows the recent positive impact of vaccines: Barely a month passed between 400,000 and a half-million deaths, but it has taken nearly four times as long to reach the 600,000 mark. At the same time, the trend in the number of new infections, which has closely mirrored deaths, reached a peak in January of more than 300,000 in a single day. Now the U.S. is hovering around an average of fewer than 15,000 confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins.

The positive trends have led many states to lift their coronavirus restrictions — with some dropping mask mandates altogether for vaccinated individuals and eliminating other social distancing requirements.

At the same time, however, many Americans have shown a reluctance to get vaccinated, with just over half of U.S. adultsfully immunized. In parts of the Midwest and South, in particular, vaccine rates per 100,000 people still remain relatively low compared with the Northeast and parts of the West Coast, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The divide has been particularly marked between rural and urban areas of the country.

Tuesday's figures follow a study this week showing that a new vaccine, one made by Novavax, is 100% effective against the original strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and 93% effective against other variants.

The next step is for the company to seek regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which has issued emergency authorizations for three other vaccines – ones made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.