COVID vaccines saved nearly 20 million lives in first year, scientists say

Nearly 20 million lives were saved by COVID-19 vaccines during the first year, but more deaths could have been prevented if international vaccination targets had been met, researchers said on Thursday.

On December 8, 2020, a retired salesman in England received his first shot as part of a global vaccination campaign. Over the next 12 months, more than 4.3 billion people around the world lined up for vaccines.

Effort, albeit clouded persistent inequalityprevented deaths on an unimaginable scale, said Oliver Watson of Imperial College London, who led the new modeling study.

“Catastrophic would be the first word that comes to mind,” Watson said of the outcome if vaccines were not available to fight the coronavirus. The findings “quantify how much worse the pandemic could have been had we not had these vaccines.”

The researchers used data from 185 countries to estimate that vaccines prevented 4.2 million COVID-19 deaths in India, 1.9 million in the US, 1 million in Brazil, 631,000 in France and 507,000 in the UK.

According to the WHO, another 600,000 deaths could be averted if the World Health Organization’s goal of 40% vaccination coverage by the end of 2021 were met. study published on Thursday in the Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The main finding — 19.8 million deaths from COVID-19 were averted — is based on estimates of how many more deaths than usual occurred during this time period. Using only reported COVID-19 deaths, the same model yielded 14.4 million vaccine-prevented deaths.

London-based scientists ruled out China due to uncertainty over the impact of the pandemic on deaths there and its huge population.

The study has other limitations as well. The researchers did not consider how the virus could mutate differently in the absence of vaccines. And they didn’t consider how lockdowns or mask-wearing might change if vaccines weren’t available.

Another modeling group used a different approach to estimate that 16.3 million COVID-19 deaths were prevented by vaccines. This work by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle has not been published.

In the real world, people are more likely to wear masks when the number of cases is on the rise, said Ali Mokdad of the institute, and a 2021 delta wave without vaccines would cause a major political backlash.

“We may not agree with the numbers as scientists, but we all agree that COVID vaccines have saved many lives,” Mokdad said.

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

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

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

AP health and science reporter Havovi Todd contributed.

The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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