Nearly half a million lives saved by COVID-19 vaccination in less than a year

This estimate does not include lives saved by vaccination of people under the age of 60, nor lives saved by the indirect effect of vaccination due to a reduction in transmission.

dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, says: “COVID-19 has claimed a devastating death toll in our region, but we can now categorically say that without COVID-19 vaccines as a tool to contain this pandemic , many more people would have died.

“The COVID-19 vaccines are a marvel of modern science and what this research shows is that they do what they promised to save lives and provide very high protection against serious illness and death. In some countries, without the vaccines, the death toll would have been double what it is today. It is therefore crucial that all Member States in the European region achieve high coverage for people in the risk groups as soon as possible. Countries with lower vaccination coverage should continue to prioritize those most at risk and protect vulnerable groups as soon as possible.”

“But vaccines must be accompanied by a range of preventive measures to keep transmission levels low and society open.”

As of December 2019, more than 1.5 million SARS-CoV-2 confirmed fatalities have been recorded in the countries of the WHO European Region, with 90.2% of them in people aged 60 years and older. The rapid development and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines has provided much-needed protection against serious illness and death to millions of the most vulnerable, but the speed and scale of the roll-out of these vaccines in the countries of the WHO European Region is unfair .

Avoid serious illness and death

Husband and wife Frank and Barbara Durrant, aged 78 and 74 respectively, live in East Devon in the United Kingdom and have four grandchildren. After receiving their second COVID-19 vaccination, they caught the virus but recovered quickly.

Barbara Durrant says: “I contracted COVID-19 about 5 weeks ago and only had a mild cold and loss of taste for a few weeks. I’m pretty sure that double vaccination saved me from much more serious consequences. Sadly, I lost a very dear, very fit friend who died of the virus before the vaccine was available. She had no choice.”

“After getting my second vaccination, I contracted COVID-19 after being in close contact for a long time with a friend who had the virus. The symptoms were so mild that, without a positive test, I would have considered myself fully fit. I no doubt attribute this to the fact that I have been vaccinated twice,” says Frank Durrant.

Methodology

The WHO/Europe and ECDC authors estimated the number of deaths among adults aged 60 years and older in the 33 countries in the European region that would have occurred without vaccines, using actual weekly reported death rates.

They then calculated the number of lives saved from COVID-19 vaccination as the difference between these estimates and the reported deaths from December 2020 to November 2021 for those aged 60 and older.

They estimate that COVID-19 vaccination saved 469,186 lives in this age group in the 33 countries during the study period, reducing the expected number of deaths by about half. In 30 countries with data also available in smaller age groups, the greatest number of lives saved was among the over-80s (261,421 lives).

The uptake of the full dose range of COVID-19 vaccines in individuals 60 years of age and older now ranges from 20% to 100% in the 33 countries surveyed. The study estimated that the greatest number of lives saved was achieved in countries where the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine was early and acceptance among the target population was also high. Other countries experienced limited effects from vaccination because their vaccine rollout was either slower or rolled out in parallel with the ongoing effective use of non-pharmaceutical interventions to reduce transmission.

dr. Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director says:

“The effects of low vaccination coverage in some countries are currently reflected in overburdened health care systems and high death rates. We urge Member States to continue to focus on closing immunization gaps, especially among the most vulnerable and those most at risk of serious diseases.

There are still too many people at risk of serious COVID-19 infection that we need to protect as soon as possible. Even in countries that have achieved good overall vaccination coverage, there are still subpopulations and age groups in which coverage remains lower than desired. The vaccination of older age groups must remain an urgent priority in the coming weeks and months to save the most lives.”

Vaccination essential along with other preventive measures

Vaccination is part of the toolbox of important measures needed to contain the pandemic, but by itself it will not end the health crisis.

A range of other measures limiting the transmission of the virus are needed. They are essential to keep society open and to ease the pressure on overburdened health care systems and health workers who have been depleted for more than 18 months on the front lines of the pandemic.

“First of all – get vaccinated. Vaccination saves lives in all age groups,” says Dr Kluge. “We know that the virus thrives in closed, crowded and confined spaces, so we also need to follow measures known to reduce transmission, especially as the colder weather pushes us to gather indoors.”

“Wear a mask in crowded, closed and confined spaces, cover up coughs and sneezes, keep physical distance from other people and wash your hands regularly. Ventilation is also important, so if it’s safe to do so, open a window or door to let in fresh air. It is important that the authorities take these measures and that we all do this to protect ourselves and others, even if we are fully vaccinated, because based on the available evidence, vaccination greatly reduces virus transmission, but cannot completely prevent the transmission of viruses. fuses.”

“By making these actions part of our daily routine, we can all help stop the infection and spread of the virus. In the same way that we routinely put on a seat belt while driving, we must remember to wash our hands, wear a mask or keep our distance from other people to protect ourselves from infection.”

Until the pandemic is over, countries must implement strong public health measures such as free testing, contact tracing to break the transmission chains, and urgently contact all individuals in vaccination priority groups who have not yet received a full set.

View the study in Eurosurveillance

EDITORS COMMENTS

  • The 33 countries analyzed are: Iceland, Israel, Norway, Malta, Spain, Finland, Ireland, England, Cyprus, Portugal, Greece, France, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden, Hungary, Lithuania, Switzerland, Estonia, North Macedonia , Montenegro, Slovenia, Poland, Czech Republic, Croatia, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia, Moldova, Ukraine and Scotland.

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