COVID-19 vaccines prevented nearly 20 million deaths in the first year after they were introduced, according to the first large modeling study on the topic released Friday.
The study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, is based on data from 185 countries and territories collected from December 8, 2020, to December 8, 2021. It is the first attempt to estimate the number of deaths prevented directly and indirectly as a result of COVID-19 vaccinations.
The study found that 19.8 million deaths were prevented out of a potential 31.4 million deaths that would have occurred if no vaccines were available.
The study used official figures -- or estimates when official data was not available -- for deaths from COVID, as well as total excess deaths from each country. Excess mortality is the difference between the total number of people who died from all causes and the number of deaths expected based on past data.
The study found that high- and middle-income countries accounted for the largest number of deaths averted, 12.2 million out of 19.8 million, reflecting inequalities in access to vaccines worldwide.
Nearly 600,000 additional deaths could have been prevented if the World Health Organization's (WHO) goal of vaccinating 40 percent of each country's population by the end of 2021 had been met, the researchers concluded.
"Millions of lives have probably been saved by making vaccines available to people around the world," lead study author Oliver Watson said.
"We could have done more," he added.
Covid has officially killed more than 6.3 million people globally, according to the WHO. But the organization said last month the real number could be as high as 15 million when all direct and indirect causes are accounted for.
Meanwhile, the virus is on the rise again in places such as Europe, which is seeing a warm-weather resurgence blamed in part on Omicron subvariants. (AFP)