According to a mathematical modelling analysis, the COVID-19 vaccine avoided about 20 million fatalities worldwide in the first year that it was commercially accessible.
The Medical Research Council Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London researchers said the study was the first to evaluate deaths averted directly and indirectly from COVID-19 vaccination. They used COVID-19 death records and total excess deaths from 185 countries and territories.
Based on officially recorded COVID-19 deaths from December 8th, 2020 to December 8th, 2021, vaccinations avoided 14.4 million deaths across 185 countries and territories, the study's authors claimed in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
"This prediction rose to 19.8 million deaths from COVID-19 averted," they wrote, "when we used excess deaths as a forecast of the true extent of the pandemic. This represents a global reduction in total deaths of 63 percent (19.8 million out of 31.4 million) during the first year of COVID-19 vaccination."
By the end of 2021, however, vaccination coverage in 96 nations and administrative regions dropped below the WHO target of 40%, with researchers predicting an additional 599,300 deaths would have been avoided if this target had been attained.
"In low-income countries, we estimated that an additional 45 percent of deaths could have been prevented if each country had achieved the 20 percent vaccination coverage target set by [Covid-19 Vaccine Access initiative] COVAX, and an additional 111 percent of deaths could have been prevented if each country had achieved the 40 percent target set by WHO by the end of 2021," they wrote.
"The COVID-19 vaccine has significantly changed the pandemic's trajectory and saved tens of millions of lives worldwide. Despite this, more lives could have been saved if vaccinations had been provided more quickly to numerous countries and if global vaccination rates had been increased.
Gregory Barnsley, a co-first author of the study and a professor at Imperial College London, noted that it was difficult to evaluate the global impact of immunisation due to differences in vaccine availability and genetic sequence data between different countries.
Additionally, it is impossible to determine how many deaths would have occurred in the absence of immunizations. In a statement, he added that mathematical modelling "offers a useful tool for examining various possibilities, which we cannot directly experience in real life."
While the concentrated focus on the pandemic has now moved, according to co-author Professor Azra Ghani of Imperial College London, it is still crucial to safeguard the most vulnerable individuals worldwide against Covid-19 and other serious diseases that continue to disproportionately afflict the poorest.
In a statement, he added that while providing immunizations for free is important, there are other steps that must be taken.
The infrastructure and distribution of vaccines need to be improved, and there has to be a coordinated effort to address vaccination disinformation and raise vaccine demand. Only then will we be able to guarantee that everyone will be able to take advantage of these life-saving technology.
The report comes as the UK deals with a fresh COVID outbreak, with doctors warning that one in five seniors 75 years and older had not had a vaccine in the last six months, increasing their risk of developing serious illness. This month, NHS England released its draught schedule for an autumn booster programme, and pharmacists are now eligible to apply to provide the booster shots.
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