YSPH study finds COVID-19 vaccine rollout has saved 279,000 lives
Researchers used modeling techniques to estimate the number of lives saved and hospitalizations prevented due to the U.S. vaccine rollout compared to the result if no vaccines had been administered.
Regina Sung, Staff Photographer
“The pace of our vaccination efforts has saved over 100,000 lives,” President Joe Biden announced at a press conference on Aug. 23, after the FDA granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. He was citing the results of a study conducted by the Yale School of Public Health.
The study, authored by professor of epidemiology Alison Galvani and associate research scientist Pratha Sah, described that without the United States’ COVID-19 vaccination program, there would have been 279,000 more deaths and nearly 1.25 million further hospitalizations compared to reported levels. The article was published by The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation dedicated to improving access, quality and efficiency in the United States health care system and is currently under peer review on MedRxiv.
“This success is particularly noteworthy given the emergence of more transmissible variants, including the delta variant,” Galvani wrote in an email to the News. “Our study underscores that the swift vaccine rollout in the US has played a pivotal role in reducing the COVID-19 burden and in curbing surges from more transmissible emerging variants.”
Galvani and Sah, along with senior vice president for policy and research at the Commonwealth Fund, Eric Schneider, modeled the impact of the United States vaccination program by considering two hypothetical scenarios for caseloads and deaths. They compared if no vaccines against COVID-19 had been administered and if only half the number of doses were administered in the United States to reported levels of vaccination.
The researchers reported that 279,000 additional deaths and 1.25 million more hospitalizations would have occurred if there were no vaccines administered. In their other scenario — if the United States had achieved only half the pace of vaccination — there would have been approximately 121,000 more deaths and 450,000 more hospitalizations.
The model also accounted for the transmission dynamics of the Alpha, Gamma and Delta variants that have resulted in most COVID-19 cases in the United States this summer.
“We used a detailed computational model that considered population demographics of the US, contact behavior of individuals during the pandemic and disease characteristics of COVID-19,” Sah wrote in an email to the News. “The model incorporated data on daily vaccine doses administered in the U.S.”
The researchers also identified that without the vaccination program, the daily death toll from COVID-19 would have skyrocketed to nearly 4,500 per day, in what could have been the deadliest wave of the virus, cresting above the observed daily peak of 4,000 deaths during the winter of 2021.
“It is more important than ever to get vaccinated,” Galvani wrote. “The more Americans who get vaccinated, the better for them, their families and the rest of their communities.”
Sah added that accelerating vaccination coverage, particularly in underserved communities, is crucial to reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths in the United States while also helping to avoid any future resurgence in cases from novel COVID-19 variants.
She explained that the speed with which vaccines were administered in the United States was crucial to limiting the adverse impacts of the highly transmissible Alpha variant in the spring.
“The swift vaccine rollout in the US curbed a potential resurgence of cases in April 2021 fuelled by the Alpha variant,” Sah wrote. “Compared to the scenario without vaccines, we estimated that the actual vaccination program averted more than 26 million cases [and] 1.2 million hospitalizations.”
Galvani, Sah and Schneider have also contributed to blog posts on the Commonwealth Fund website that use similar modeling to predict the number of deaths that could have been averted in COVID-19 hotspots if certain vaccination coverage thresholds had been attained.
The researchers noted that in Florida and Texas, more than 70,000 hospitalizations and 4,700 deaths could have been averted by July 31 if these states had reached 74 percent vaccination coverage by that date. As of Aug. 31, the vaccination rates in Florida and Texas are at 53.4 and 47.8 percent, respectively, according to Our World in Data.
“The bottom line is that vaccination saves lives,” Galvani explained.
According to Our World in Data, 174,600,017 people in the United States are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Sept. 1.