For the first time in Alabama’s known history, the state had more deaths than births in 2020 — a grim milestone that underscores the pandemic’s calamitous toll.
“Our state literally shrunk in 2020,” Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, said at a news conference on Friday. There were 64,714 total deaths in the state last year, compared to 57,641 births, Dr. Harris said.
Such a gap had never been recorded, not even during World War I, World War II and the flu pandemic of 1918, Dr. Harris said. Going back to the earliest available records, in 1900, “We’ve never had a time when deaths exceeded births,” he said.
Nationally, the birthrate declined for the sixth straight year in 2020, and some experts say the pandemic may be accelerating that trend. A study from the University of New Hampshire found that half of the 50 U.S. states had more deaths than births in 2020, compared with only five states with more deaths than births in 2019.
In Alabama last year, 7,182 deaths were officially attributed to Covid, according to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
On Wednesday, in a town hall discussion with Al.com, Alabama’s largest digital news site, Dr. Harris dismissed arguments that Covid deaths were being misrepresented.
“We get skeptical people who go, ‘Oh well, those were just older people who were going to die anyway, and you’re just attributing their deaths to Covid,’” he said. “That is not the case.”
Alabama has recently averaged about 60 deaths a day, according to a New York Times database, and only 41 percent of the state’s eligible population is fully vaccinated.
Alabama’s rate of full vaccination is on a par with Idaho’s, tied as the third-lowest rate in the country. The two that rank lower are Wyoming and West Virginia.
Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, has urged the people of her state to get Covid vaccinations, but like many other Republicans, she objected when President Biden recently announced vaccine mandates, calling them “outrageous” and “overreaching.”