Since approval in December 2020, vaccines against covid-19 have prevented the death of 19.8 million people, in 31.4 million potential deaths, according to the first study that quantified the impact on a global scale.
Most deaths (12.2 million out of 19.8) were avoided in high- and middle-income countries, striking evidence of the inequalities in access to vaccines around the world.
The study indicates that another 599,300 deaths could have been avoided if the World Health Organization (WHO) goal of vaccinating 40% of the population of each country had been met by the end of 2021.
Based on data from 185 countries, the study assesses deaths directly and indirectly avoided by vaccines against covid-19.
The results were published Friday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Led by researchers from Imperial College London, the study was funded by the Schmidt Futures & Rhodes Trust, the WHO, the UK Medical Research Council, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Jameel Community, among others.
The work concludes that vaccines have more than halved the potential number of deaths during the pandemic in the first year (63%).
Of the almost 20 million deaths that were avoided, almost 7.5 million were in the countries where the COVAX initiative arrived, an alliance signed by 190 countries to guarantee equitable access to these medicines.
For Oliver Watson, lead author of the study and researcher at Imperial College, these results demonstrate that vaccines “saved millions of lives. But more could have been done.”
“If the goals set by the WHO had been achieved, we estimate that approximately one in 5 of the lives estimated to have been lost to Covid in low-income countries could have been saved.”
Until now, several studies have tried to estimate the impact of vaccination on the pandemic, but this is the first that has been carried out worldwide.
The researchers used data on Covid deaths reported between December 8, 2020 and December 8, 2021 and took into account the underreporting of deaths in countries with weaker surveillance systems (China was not included due to the large population and measures blocking, which would falsify the results).
The team found that over this period, vaccination prevented approximately 19.8 million deaths out of 31.4 million potential deaths.
Indirect protection from vaccines prevented 4.3 million deaths. Vaccines helped reduce transmission of the virus and reduced the burden on health systems.
In general, the estimated number of deaths averted was higher in high-income countries, which reflects the earlier and broader development of vaccination campaigns in these areas.
The 83 countries included in the analysis and which turned to COVAX for assistance avoided 7.4 million deaths out of a potential of 17.9 million (41%).
Failure to meet COVAX’s target of vaccinating 20% of each country’s population is estimated to have resulted in an additional 156,900 deaths (132,700 of which in Africa alone).
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