COVID-19 vaccines saved 20 million lives in 1 year

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The global COVID-19 vaccination campaign has helped save millions of lives. Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images
  • A new study estimates that COVID-19 vaccines helped avert 19.8 million deaths worldwide in the first year after vaccination campaigns were launched.
  • The study found that vaccine inequality led to a disproportionately higher number of deaths averted by vaccination in high-income countries than in low-income countries.
  • Several low-income countries have missed the World Health Organization (WHO) target of vaccinating 40% of their population, and reaching this target could have doubled the number of lives saved in these regions.

A recent study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Disease estimates that COVID-19 vaccines helped reduce global deaths by 63% in the first year they became available. The study also found that a more equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines could have averted a significant number of deaths in low-income countries.

Dr. Oliver Watsonresearcher at Imperial College London, said: “Our findings offer the most comprehensive assessment to date of the remarkable global impact that vaccination has had on the COVID-19 pandemic. […] Our results show that millions of lives were likely saved by making vaccines available to everyone, regardless of wealth.

“However, more could have been done. If the targets set by the WHO had been met, we estimate that around 1 in 5 of the estimated lives lost to COVID-19 in low-income countries could have been prevented,” he added.

The first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine was administered outside of a clinical trial setting on December 8, 2020.

Since the approval of the first COVID-19 vaccine, almost 62% of the world’s population has been fully immunized with two doses of the vaccine.

Approved COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in preventing serious illness and reducing mortality and have changed the trajectory of the pandemic. So far, studies examining the impact of COVID vaccines on reducing mortality have been limited to specific regions and have only assessed the direct effects of vaccination on preventing death in individuals.

Researchers at Imperial College London recently assessed the global impact of vaccination against COVID-19 by quantifying the deaths averted by these vaccines in the first year of vaccination.

In addition to the direct effects of vaccines on mortality, researchers also considered indirect benefits conferred by vaccines such as reduced transmission of the virus in the community, including unvaccinated people.

The researchers used mathematical models of SARS-Transmission of CoV-2 to estimate the number of lives that would have been lost in an alternative scenario involving the lack of vaccines against COVID-19.

They incorporated data on variables such as vaccination rates, vaccine deployment dates, COVID-19 deaths, circulating variants and demographics for each country in the model to arrive at death estimates. prevented by vaccination.

Based on the number of COVID-19 deaths officially reported by each country, researchers estimated that the vaccines helped prevent 14.4 million deaths worldwide in the first year of COVID-19 vaccination. 19.

However, studies suggest that official reports have considerably underestimated the actual number of deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Therefore, the researchers assessed the excess all-cause deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is the difference between the number of deaths observed in one year of the pandemic and the deaths expected in one year. non-pandemic year.

The researchers used national vital registration systems that keep death and birth records to obtain data on excess deaths from COVID-19. However, these registers are incomplete in many developing countries. Therefore, researchers used models to predict excess deaths in these countries.

Based on estimates of excess deaths during the pandemic, researchers found that vaccinations averted 19.8 million deaths, reducing the number of deaths by 63% in the first year of vaccination.

Vaccination coverage in low- and middle-income countries is lower than in high-income countries due to inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The Global Access to COVID Vaccines (COVAX) was launched to facilitate a more equitable distribution of vaccines, in particular through the donation of vaccines by the richest countries. The COVAX Initiative Advanced Market Committee (AMC) helps finance the purchase of vaccines and their distribution in low- and middle-income countries.

COVAX AMC had set a goal of vaccinating 20% ​​of the population in developing countries by the end of 2021. Similarly, the World Health Organization had set a goal of vaccinating 40% of the population worldwide during the same period.

However, many developing countries have not achieved these goals. Insufficient vaccine supplies and the hoarding of vaccine doses by wealthier countries meant that low- and middle-income countries had limited access to vaccines.

Lack of necessary infrastructure for vaccine storage and reluctance to vaccinate have also contributed to declining vaccination rates in some countries.

In the present study, the researchers assessed the number of lives that could have been saved if the distribution of vaccines had been more equitable. They found that the number of deaths averted by vaccination was higher in high-income countries than in low- and middle-income countries.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 vaccines reduced deaths by approximately 41% (7.4 million) in 83 COVAX AMC countries. Of these COVAX AMC participants, 41 countries have not reached the goal of vaccinating 20% ​​of their population. This included 25 low-income countries and reaching the 20% vaccination target could have reduced the number of deaths by an additional 45% in these countries.

In addition, 96 countries have not reached the WHO target of vaccinating 40% of the population. The majority of these were low-income countries and achieving the WHO target in these countries could have prevented more than double (111%) the deaths in these countries.

These findings underscore the need for mechanisms to achieve more equitable distribution of vaccines.

Dr Ingrid Katz, a professor at Harvard Medical School, said: “There are many measures that could help achieve global vaccine equity. At the heart of any proposal, we need a strong intergovernmental body that can help establish a convention or agreement to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

“This must be integrated with global health equity and a commitment from the international community to work together and ensure the strengthening of health care at the community level. This must be supported by sustained funding for pandemic preparedness and oversight mechanisms that can ensure accountability and transparency while ensuring trust,” she said.

“We can start by building national sovereignty, promoting bilateral donations to programs like COVAX, providing financial and operational support to low- and middle-income nationals to support the scale-up of effective immunization programs, sharing intellectual property and technology transfers for the manufacture of vaccines. , and supporting the development of a generation of researchers and institutions that can provide regulatory support.
— Dr. Ingrid Katz

“All of this can and should be done now, not as a global pandemic is unleashed. It is the only way to ensure that we can effectively fight this pandemic and all future ones,” Dr Katz added.

Dr. Watson noted that tackling misinformation and improving vaccine delivery and distribution infrastructure could also help achieve vaccine equity.

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