According to the peer-reviewed study, which was carried out by Imperial College London researchers at the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, out of a potential 31.4 million coronavirus deaths globally, the vaccination campaign rollout prevented 63% potential deaths.
However, the study found that "inadequate access" to coronavirus vaccines in low-income countries severely harmed the potential impact of the COVID-19 Vaccine Access initiative (COVAX).
"If the targets set out by the WHO had been achieved, we estimate that roughly 1 in 5 of the estimated lives lost due to COVID-19 in low-income countries could have been prevented," said lead author Dr. Oliver Watson.
More deaths could have been prevented
Indeed, according to the study's unique comparative analysis algorithm, almost 600,000 deaths could have been avoided had the World Health Organization's target of vaccinating 40% of the population in each country with two or more doses by the end of 2021 been met.
Additionally, over 81,000 deaths could have been prevented, had the COVAX goal of vaccinating 20% of the populations of all countries involved with two doses by the end of 2021 been met.
"Ensuring fair access to vaccines is crucial, but requires more than just donating vaccines," said study co-author Professor Azra Ghani. "Improvements in vaccine distribution and infrastructure, as well as coordinated efforts to combat vaccine misinformation and improve vaccine demand, are needed. Only then can we ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from these life-saving technologies."
"Improvements in vaccine distribution and infrastructure, as well as coordinated efforts to combat vaccine misinformation and improve vaccine demand, are needed. Only then can we ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from these life-saving technologies."Professor Azra Ghani
To reach these estimates, the researchers used a model of coronavirus transmissions by country per recorded data referring to COVID-19-related deaths within the first year of the global vaccination program, between December 8, 2020 and December 8, 2021.
However, there was a reasonable concern over under-reporting of deaths in countries that did not monitor the issue as thoroughly, and so another analysis was integrated which incorporated estimates of excess deaths above those expected in that same time frame.
According to Imperial College London, the researchers used "estimates of all-cause excess mortality" wherever official data was not present.
To estimate the difference in deaths, another analysis was used for comparison in which a hypothetical scenario was presented in which no coronavirus vaccines were administered.
What were the causes of death prevention?
They found through this mathematical model that over three-quarters of deaths averted were due to the protection against severe symptoms provided by vaccination, leading to lower mortality rates.
The rest of the deaths prevented were due to indirect protection from reduced transmission of the virus in the population and reduced burden on healthcare systems. This caused a significant improvement in the ability to access health care for those who needed it most.
A previous data analysis, published by Health System Tracker in April, found that 234,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States could have been prevented since June with vaccines.