Fact Check: Africa DID Have Half The COVID Deaths Of US In 2021, While Africa Has 4 Times The Population And Only 7% Vaccination Rate

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: Africa DID Have Half The COVID Deaths Of US In 2021, While Africa Has 4 Times The Population And Only 7% Vaccination Rate Young vs Old

Did Africa have half the COVID-19 deaths in 2021 that the United States had, with four times the population and just a 7% vaccination rate? Yes, that's mostly true, but not the whole story: The figures are ballpark, but there's no reason to quibble with them. Understanding the youthful demographic breakdown of the continent is key during a pandemic that has had a greater impact on the elderly than the young.

Africa has the younger median age. The United States is near the high end of the global scale. As of December 28, 2021, the vaccination rate of two shots for all of Africa was 8.87%, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 61.9% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated as of the same date.

The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) on December 22, 2021. It says:

Africa has had half the Covid deaths in 2021 that the USA has had, but has 4x the population of the USA, and it's vaccination rate is only 7%.

This is what the post looked like on Facebook on December 28, 2021:


(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Dec 28 15:32:48 2021 UTC)

Demographically, Africa is the most youthful continent on the planet. At 20 years for its median age, Africa is 11 years younger than the world as a whole (31 years) and around half that of the United States (38.1 years). Africa also has the shortest average life expectancy at 61 years, according to the United Nations. It's 79.2 years in the United States. Africa's demographics leave fewer people in what have proven to be the most vulnerable age groups during the pandemic. While half of Africans die by 61, in the United States, that doesn't happen until nearly two decades later.

The risk of death from COVID rises rapidly with age. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from January 1, 2020, through December 22, 2021, nearly 90% percent (720,516) of the 807,774 U.S. deaths due to the virus were in people 55 and up, leaving the remaining 10% in those 54 and younger.

Bar graph final 2.png

(Source: Graph created by Lead Stories using CDC data through December 22, 2021)

A Pew Research Center analysis from April 22, 2020, found a similar correlation between demographics and countries hardest hit by COVID-19.

Some of the countries where COVID-19 has been deadliest - including the United States and Italy - have populations that skew considerably older than the global average, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of United Nations data.

Populations in Europe, Northern America are older than in other regions

People who are 60 and older appear to be especially vulnerable to the virus, while children appear to be less susceptible to it. Adults younger than 60 often have been affected by COVID-19, too, but they generally have been less likely than older people to die from it.

The United States and Africa are on opposite ends of the scale. This is what the Pew analysis said about Africa:


Africa has the youngest population of any region, with a median age of 20 - roughly a decade less than the global figure. All but one of the 20 countries with the lowest median ages are in Africa. (The exception is Afghanistan.) Four-in-ten Africans are below the age of 15 and just 6% are 60 or older.

A separate Pew analysis from 2019 shows 22% of the U.S. population is age 60 and older.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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