Jun 24, 2022 - Health

Vaccines prevented nearly 20 million COVID deaths, study shows

Photo of a street sign that says "Save a life, don't risk a life. Wear a face covering"

A sign promoting the wearing of face coverings in London, Britain on Feb. 21, 2022. Photo: Stephen Chung/Xinhua via Getty Images

Vaccines prevented nearly 20 million COVID deaths between December 2020 and December 2021, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Why it matters: The study provides a better understanding of the impact of global vaccination — both successes and missteps — during the first year vaccines were available.

Details: Using mathematical modeling, researchers found that vaccines cut the potential worldwide death toll in half.

  • 31.4 million COVID deaths would have occurred without vaccinations, the study estimated.
  • Vaccines helped save 19.8 million lives, per the study.
  • Nearly 80% of deaths were prevented primarily due to vaccines. Indirect protection through collective vaccination helped avoid 4.3 million deaths.
  • If 40% of the world's population had been vaccinated by the end of 2021, as outlined as the World Health Organization's (WHO) target, roughly 599,000 additional deaths would have been averted.
  • The majority of these deaths were reported in lower-middle-income countries and the African and Eastern Mediterranean regions.

What they're saying: The study reveals the "substantial impact that vaccines have had and the millions of lives that are likely to have been saved during the first year of vaccination," researchers wrote.

  • "Despite this, more lives could have been saved if vaccines had been distributed more rapidly to many parts of the world and if vaccine uptake could have been strengthened worldwide."
  • "Vaccine intellectual property needs to be shared more quickly in the future, with more open technology and knowledge transfer surrounding vaccine production and allocation," the study states.
  • "Vaccine distribution and delivery infrastructure also needs to be scaled up worldwide and misinformation combatted to improve vaccine demand."

Worth noting: Wealthy countries have vastly outpaced low and middle-income countries' vaccination rates because they've hoarded the lion's share of the world's doses, Axios' Caitlin Owens and Dave Lawler write.

Go deeper: More than 230,000 U.S. COVID deaths were preventable, analysis finds

Go deeper