CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — As the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact has changed over the years, becoming less deadly from the first to second year, U of I researchers have found new information regarding a shift in affected age groups.

Graduate student Ian Ludden, computer science professor Sheldon H. Jacobson and Janet A. Jokela, the interim executive associate dean of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, published their recent findings in the journal Health Care Management Science.

The new study gives insights into the trends in death rates among various demographic groups year to year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The big trends that we see are that the second year, from April 2021 through March 2022, was harder on the middle-aged subgroups, while deaths declined for the elderly,” said Jacobson.

The researchers said the second-year surge in death numbers were among the middle age brackets, with the biggest increase in mortality among both males and females aged 25 to 54. They pointed to several likely contributing factors.

“We know that the delta variant was surging at that time, and that seemed to impact the middle and younger age groups more profoundly than they had been before,” said Jokela. “We also know, from other studies, that preventive care decreased during the pandemic.”

Researchers said data has also provided evidence that higher vaccination rates among the elderly beginning in the second year of the pandemic reduced mortality among them.

“This underscores the importance of vaccination as a preventative measure,” said Ludden.

The researchers said they plan to continue to analyze data and follow ongoing trends in mortality, and hope to analyze more cause-of-death data as the CDC releases it in coming years.

“It’s critically important that we learn from our experiences,” said Jokela. “We need to explore what happened here and put that information to good use so that public health officials, clinicians, health care leaders and others can make the most informed decisions going forward.”