This estimate does not include lives saved by vaccinating people under 60 years of age or lives saved from the indirect impact of vaccination due to reduced transmission.
Dr. Hans Henry B. People were going to die.
“COVID-19 vaccines are a marvel of modern science and what this research shows is that they are doing what they promise, which is to save lives, and provide very high protection against severe disease and death. In some countries, the death toll could have been twice what it is now without Vaccines. It is therefore extremely important that all member states of the European region achieve high coverage of people in high-risk groups as soon as possible. Countries with lower vaccination uptake rates must continue to prioritize those most at risk and protect vulnerable groups as quickly as possible” .
“But vaccines must be accompanied by a range of preventative measures to keep transmission levels low and keep society open.”
Since December 2019, more than 1.5 million confirmed deaths of SARS-CoV-2 have been recorded in countries of the WHO European Region, with 90.2% in those aged 60 years and over. The rapid development and management of COVID-19 vaccines has provided much-needed protection from severe illness and death to millions of the most vulnerable people, but the speed and extent of these vaccines spread across countries in the WHO European Region is inequitable.
Avoid severe illness and death
Husband and wife Frank and Barbara Durant, aged 78 and 74 respectively, live in East Devon, UK and have four grandchildren. After receiving their second COVID-19 vaccination, they contracted the virus but recovered quickly.
Barbara Durant says, “I had COVID-19 about 5 weeks ago and only had a mild cold and loss of taste for a few weeks. I am pretty sure that the double vaccination saved me from being more serious. Unfortunately, I lost a very decent good friend who died of The virus was before a vaccine was available. She had no choice.”
“After my second vaccination, I contracted COVID-19 after a long period of time spent in close contact with a friend who had the virus. The symptoms were so mild that without the positive test I would have considered myself fully fit. I attribute this, no doubt, to the fact that I was vaccinated. Double,” says Frank Durant.
The authors from WHO/Europe and ECDC estimated the number of deaths among adults aged 60 years and over in 33 countries in the European Region that would have occurred without any vaccines using actual weekly reported death counts.
They then calculated the number of lives saved from vaccination against COVID-19 as the difference between these estimates and the number of deaths reported from December 2020 to November 2021 for those aged 60 and over.
They estimated that the COVID-19 vaccine saved 469,186 people in this age group in 33 countries during the study period — reducing the expected number of deaths by nearly half. In 30 countries with data also available in younger age groups, the largest number of lives saved was among those aged 80 and over (261,421 lives).
The utilization rate of the full-dose series of COVID-19 vaccines for 60-year-olds and over is 20% to 100% of the 33 countries studied. The study estimated that the largest number of lives saved were in countries where the release of the COVID-19 vaccine was early and uptake in the target group was also high. Other countries experienced limited effects of immunization because deployment of their vaccine was either slower or initiated in parallel with the continued effective use of non-pharmaceutical interventions to reduce transmission.
Dr. Andrea Ammon, director of the center, says,
“The consequences of low vaccination rates in some countries are currently being reflected in overburdened health care systems and high mortality rates. We urge Member States to continue to focus on closing immunization gaps, particularly among the most vulnerable individuals and those most at risk of critical disease.
There are still many individuals at risk of severe COVID-19 infection who we need to protect as quickly 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. Vaccination for older age groups must remain an urgent priority to save the most lives in the coming weeks and months.”
Vaccination is necessary along with other preventive measures
Vaccination is part of the critical toolkit of measures needed to curb the epidemic, but it alone will not end the health crisis.
A range of other measures are needed to limit transmission of the virus. They are essential to help keep society open as well as relieve strain on strained healthcare systems and overworked healthcare workers for more than 18 months on the front lines of the pandemic.
“First of all – get vaccinated. Immunization saves lives in all age groups,” says Dr. Kluge. “We know that the virus spreads in closed, crowded and confined spaces, which is why we must also follow known measures to reduce transmission, especially now that cold weather is pushing us to gather inside.”
“Wear a mask in crowded, enclosed and confined spaces, cover coughs and sneezes, stay away from others and wash your hands regularly. Ventilation is also important, so if it is safe to do so, open a window or door to let fresh air in. It is important that authorities take these measures and that We are doing all these measures to protect ourselves and others, even if we are fully vaccinated, because based on the available evidence, vaccination reduces significantly but cannot completely stop the transmission of the virus.”
By making these actions a part of our daily routine, we can all help stop infection and the spread of the virus. In the same way that we routinely wear a seat belt while driving, we should consider washing our hands, wearing a mask or staying away from other people, to protect us from infection.”
Until the pandemic ends, countries must keep robust public health measures in place such as free testing, contact tracing to break chains of transmission as well as urgent access to all individuals in priority groups for vaccination who have not already received a full chain.
See the study at Eurosurveillance
Notes to editors
- 33 countries were analyzed: 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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