The coronavirus pandemic could have been much worse without vaccines, according to a new study that claims the number of deaths recorded worldwide from the coronavirus would be more than triple than it is today.
In the year after the vaccine was first introduced in December 2020, more than 4.3 billion people received an inoculation, saving 20 million lives, according to research published Thursday in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.
If the World Health Organization’s goal of 40% vaccination coverage by the end of 2021 in low-income countries had been met, an additional 600,000 lives would be spared, the study said.
The “quantify just how much worse findings the pandemic could have been if we did not have these vaccines,” said lead Imperial College London researcher Oliver Watson.
“Catastrophic would be the first word that comes to mind,” Watson said of the deaths that would have occurred without widespread vaccination.
More than 6.3 million people have died from the coronavirus, including more than a million Americans, according to Our World in Data. About 40,000 New York City residents died from the virus, health officials said.
Researchers studied data from all but ten of the world’s 195 countries and found that vaccines prevented 19.8 million total deaths, including 4.2 million deaths in India and 1.9 million in the US.
One million people in Brazil were also spared death from the virus thanks to the vaccines, as were more than a half million people in both France and the United Kingdom, researchers said.
The study found that 14.4 million deaths were averted when only accounting for reported COVID-19 deaths, but the number of lives spared grew considerably when scientists accounted for deaths likely tied to the virus.
The study did have some significant limitations. China, the world’s most populated country, was among the countries excluded from the study due to the lack of information about the virus’ effect on its huge citizenry, researchers said. The effect of mask wearing, lockdowns and possible COVID-19 mutations in the absence of the virus were also not considered in the study.
An unpublished model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle estimated that 16.3 million lives were saved by vaccines.
“We may disagree on the number as scientists, but we all agree that COVID vaccines saved lots of lives,” the institute’s Ali Mokdad said, explaining that stricter policies would have been implemented worldwide if vaccines were not around during the delta variant surge.
“Although we did pretty well this time — we saved millions and millions of lives — we could have done better and we should do better in the future,” said Adam Finn of Bristol Medical School in England, who was not involved in Thursday’s published findings .
With AP wires