(NEXSTAR) — The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has hit yet another grim milestone, totaling over 900,000 as of Friday.
The tragic tally was hastened in part by an uptick in deaths amid to the outbreak of the more contagious omicron variant, as seen in data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. U.S. hospitalizations, too, had reached their highest peak in Jan. 2022, surpassing the previous peak of Jan. 2021 by tens of thousands.
President Joe Biden issued a statement on Friday in response to the death tally, calling it “another tragic milestone” in the battle against COVID-19. He also pushed vaccination as the most important weapon against the virus.
“After nearly two years, I know that the emotional, physical, and psychological weight of this pandemic has been incredibly difficult to bear,” said President Biden, in part. “I know what it’s like to stare at an empty chair around the kitchen table. But I also know that we carry an incredible capacity within ourselves — not only to come through our grief stronger, but to come together to protect one another.
“We now have more tools than ever before to save lives and fight this virus — with vaccines remaining our most important tool,” he continued. “Vaccines and boosters have proven incredibly effective, and offer the highest level of protection. Two hundred and fifty million Americans have stepped up to protect themselves, their families, and their communities by getting at least one shot — and we have saved more than one million American lives as a result.”
Biden went on to urge all Americans to vaccinate themselves and their children, and get boosters when eligible — a protective measure that public health experts and leaders have been recommending since the approval of the vaccines.
Still, only 75.5% of the U.S. population has received any dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and only 64% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University’s School of Public Health, told the Associated Press that health officials need to “double down and come up with new [ideas]” to convince unvaccinated Americans to reconsider.
“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 politicize this,” Jha told the outlet. “Those are the places where we have failed as America.”
As of Friday, the U.S. also has the highest reported number of COVID-19 deaths of any country (901,391), per Johns Hopkins University. Brazil’s reported death toll is second-highest, at more than 631,000.
Many experts believe the real number of COVID-related deaths in the U.S. is significantly higher than the reported totals, as some had been mistakenly misattributed to other conditions. Additional people with chronic illnesses have lost their lives indirectly, health officials say, after putting off necessary medical treatments amid the pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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