Updated Dec 26, 2021 - COVID

The vax saved billions in GDP

A hand holding a syringe as a pen and writing a dollar sign.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The COVID-19 vaccine generated economic savings of $438 billion — equal to 2.3% in the real gross domestic product — to the U.S. this year.

The big picture: Even though only 61% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, its widespread adoption reduced the overall burden on the health care system and kept much of the workforce well enough to stay productive.

  • Authors of the study, released by Bentonville-based Heartland Forward, note they couldn't capture the many intangible benefits, such as the sense of hope and optimism, increased quality of life and improved mental health as a return to normal became reality.

Why it matters: The speed at which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed and distributed may be a proof of concept for future innovations from public-private partnerships in health care and other industries that require major research investment.

Flashback: It can take 10 years, or more, and millions of research dollars to move a new drug or vaccine from a commercial lab to jabs in arms.

  • But researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had already been working on prototype coronavirus vaccines for years prior to the pandemic.
  • Once the medical community understood the DNA sequence of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, NIH worked with Moderna to create a vaccine for trial. Pfizer and BioNTech soon followed.

What they're saying: It's this collaboration and early-stage research by the government that Heartland Forward's Anusuya Chatterjee wants to continue.

  • "What we're hoping to achieve through this report is show how NIH worked with academia and the partnership with private companies to make this happen in such a short time period," she told Axios.

Threat level: The potential damage to the U.S. economy if the vaccine had taken longer to develop will never be known. Following the emergency use authorization of the three vaccines, there was a drastic reduction of cases, hospitalization rates and deaths in the U.S., the study notes.

  • In April, cases of COVID-19 for the unvaccinated were 10 times that of vaccinated individuals.
  • As the Delta variant became more common in August, the unvaccinated had a 6.1 times greater risk of testing positive, 11.3 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 and 18.5 times greater risk of being hospitalized.

Zoom in: The 20-state heartland region had some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases and death rates between January 2020 and Nov. 11, 2021, according to data compiled by Heartland Forward from The New York Times. This was due largely to the prevalence of chronic diseases.

  • Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Tennessee were among the top 15 states with the highest number of cases per 100,000.
  • Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Dakota had the highest death rates per 100,000.

The bottom line: The report urges policymakers to continue investing in programs that support long-term government research, like that which led to the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Go deeper: Read the full report

Watch: Axios' Jonathan Swan interviews Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India

Stay current: Axios' Omicron dashboard

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Dec. 20.

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