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COVID vaccines averted nearly 20 million deaths in 2021

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From its approval in December 2020 and until December 2021, vaccines against covid-19 prevented the death of 19.8 million people of the 31.4 million potential deaths, according to the first study that has quantified its impact on a global scale.


Most of those deaths (12.2 million of the 19.8) were prevented in high- and upper-middle-income countries, a striking proof of the existing inequalities in access to vaccines around the world. In fact, the study points out that another 599,300 deaths could have been avoided if the World Health Organization (WHO) goal of vaccinating had been met. 40% of the population of each country by the end of 2021.

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Based on data from 185 countries, the study assesses deaths directly and indirectly prevented by COVID-19 vaccines. The results are published this Friday in the journal ‘The Lancet Infectious Diseases’. Led by researchers from Imperial College London, the study has been funded by the Schmidt Futures and Rhodes Trust organizations, the World Health Organization, the UK Medical Research Council, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Community Jameel, among others.


The work concludes that the vaccines reduced more than half the potential number of deaths during the pandemic in the first year (63%). Of the almost 20 million deaths that have been prevented, almost 7.5 million were in the countries reached by the COVAX initiative, an alliance signed by 190 countries to guarantee equitable access to these medicines.

For Oliver Watson, lead author of the study and a researcher at Imperial College, these results show that vaccines “have saved millions of lives. But more could have been done“. “If the objectives set by the WHO had been achieved, we estimate that about 1 in 5 lives could have been prevented that are estimated to have been lost to COVID in low-income countries.

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Until now, several studies have tried to estimate the impact of vaccination on the pandemic, but this is the first to be done worldwide. The researchers used data on Covid deaths reported between December 8, 2020, and December 8, 2021, and accounted for underreporting of deaths in countries with weaker surveillance systems (China was not included due to its large size). population and its strict lockdown measures, which would have skewed the results).

The team found that over that period, vaccination averted approximately 19.8 million deaths out of the 31.4 million potential deaths that would have occurred.

In addition, it points out that 4.3 million deaths were avoided thanks to the indirect protection of vaccines that helped reduce the transmission of the virus and reduced the burden on health systems.

In general, the estimated number of deaths averted per person was higher in high-income countries, reflecting the earlier and broader rollout of vaccination campaigns in these areas.

The 83 countries included in the analysis and that resorted to the help of COVAX, avoided 7.4 million deaths out of a potential 17.9 million (41%). But, it is estimated that failure to meet the COVAX goal of vaccinating 20% ​​of the population in each country has caused an additional 156,900 deaths (132,700 of them in Africa alone).

Similarly, failure to meet the WHO target of fully vaccinating 40% of the population in each country by the end of 2021 is estimated to have contributed to an additional 599,300 deaths worldwide that could have been prevented.

For Azra Ghani, from Imperial College London, this study highlights the need to guarantee fair access to vaccines that goes “beyond simple donation”.

And in a commentary published in the same magazine, Alison Galvani, from Yale University (USA) underlines that “the saving of more than 19 million lives has been possible thanks to the unprecedented speed in the development and deployment of vaccines” which has been “an extraordinary global health feat. However, she points out, “millions more lives could be saved with a more equitable distribution of vaccines.”

Source: Lasexta

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