COVID-19 vaccine saved 20 million lives in first year, scientists say

The COVID-19 vaccine saved nearly 20 million lives in its first year, but many more deaths could have been avoided if international vaccination targets were met, researchers reported Thursday.

On December 8, 2020, a retired shop assistant in England got the first shot in what will become a global vaccination campaign. Over the next 12 months, more than 4.3 billion people worldwide lined up to be vaccinated.

Oliver Watson, of Imperial College London, who led the research on the new model, said the effort, while marred by persistent inequalities, prevented deaths on an unimaginable scale.

“Catastrophic would be the first word that comes to mind,” Watson said of the outcome if there is no vaccine to fight the coronavirus. The findings “quantify how the pandemic could have gotten worse if we didn’t have these vaccines.”

Using data from 185 countries, the researchers estimated that the vaccine prevented 4.2 million COVID-19 deaths in India, 1.9 million in the United States, 1 million in Brazil, 631,000 in France and 507,000 in the United Kingdom.

Another 600,000 deaths could be avoided if the World Health Organization’s target of 40% vaccination coverage by the end of 2021 is achieved, according to the study, published Thursday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The main finding – 19.8 million COVID-19 deaths prevented – is based on an estimate that more deaths than usual occurred during this period. Using only reported COVID-19 deaths, the same model yielded 14.4 million vaccine-averted deaths.

Scientists in London have left China out because of uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic on the number of deaths there and its large population.

The study has other limitations. The researchers did not include how the virus might mutate differently without a vaccine. They don’t take into account how lockdowns or wearing masks might change without a vaccine.

Using a different approach, another modeling group estimated that the vaccine averted 16.3 million COVID-19 deaths. The work from the Seattle Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has not yet been published.

The institute’s Ali Mokdad said that in the real world, when cases spike, people will wear masks more often, and a 2021 triangle wave without a vaccine will trigger a major policy response.

“As scientists, we may disagree with the number, but we all agree that the COVID vaccine has saved a lot of lives,” Mokdad said.

The findings underscore both the achievements and shortcomings of the vaccination campaign, said Adam Finn of the Bristol Medical School in the UK, who, like Mokdad, was not involved in the study.

“While we did well this time — we saved millions of lives — we could have done better, and we should do better in the future,” Finn said.

Funding came from several groups including the World Health Organization; the UK Medical Research Council; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Associated Press health and science reporter Havovi Todd contributed.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times LLC.

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