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In a recent study, researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and peer institutions modeled that more than a million lives could be saved with a global COVID-19 vaccination effort.

The researchers used economic and epidemiological models from publicly available data on COVID-19-related deaths, global vaccination and cost. They looked at the potential outcomes of higher vaccine uptake in developing countries, focusing specifically on the deaths averted and the overall cost associated with providing global vaccination. According to a pre-print of the study released by Public Citizen, providing two doses to the entirety of the global population would save over a million lives.

“If we were able to scale up specifically mRNA vaccination to 100 percent in low-income and low- middle-income countries, it could avert over a million COVID deaths, and it would cost about 30 to 60 billion dollars depending on how many doses we would consider as full vaccination,” said Alexandra Savinkina GRD ’27, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.

According to one of the study’s co-authors, Zain Rizvi LAW ’17, billions of people do not have access to a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. There is a large discrepancy between low-income and high-income countries — the authors note in the paper that just four percent of the population in low-income countries have received a full vaccine series compared to 70 percent in high-income countries.

Savinkina said that some of the main obstacles to achieving equitable global vaccination have been manufacturing capacity, the amount of available vaccines and the production capacity of the companies that can produce mRNA vaccines.

“This will require a more ambitious effort than the Biden administration and other governments so far have offered; far more funding and leadership sharing and delivering medical technology,” Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen, wrote in a press release.

According to Savinkina, the cost estimates were based on the cost per dose to the company and the cost per dose of getting vaccines into people’s arms. This provided an approximation for the cost per manufactured and administered dose, which gave them an estimated range for the overall cost. 

Using these estimates, the predicted cost of delivering two doses of an mRNA vaccine to the global population is $35.5 billion. If three doses are administered, the cost rises to $61.2 billion. 

These numbers were assessed alongside the estimated deaths averted to provide a cost per life saved. Administering two doses would save 1.3 million lives at a cost of $26,900 per death averted, and three doses would save 1.5 million lives for $40,800 per death averted.

“This study shows that vaccinating the world can save an enormous amount of lives for a fraction of the cost we have spent responding to the virus,” Rizvi told the News. “Global vaccine access should be a global priority.”

Savinkina noted that this study looked specifically at the Omicron variant, and that the findings could change if a different variant became the dominant strain. She said that the study originally intended to use data from before the spread of Omicron, but was changed in response to the variant’s emergence. 

According to Savinkina, the study was dependent on many factors including the severity of infection, effect of the vaccine and natural immunity. The biggest change that was made to the study was the infection fatality rate, or IFR, which became lower due to the lower severity of infection with Omicron. 

If a more severe variant becomes dominant in the future, Savinkina said that the IFR would increase, and the deaths averted with vaccination could potentially increase as well. There would be no change to the cost per dose, but the cost per life saved would also decrease in such a scenario.

Savinkina said that she would be interested to see future research measuring other outcomes of global vaccination, especially the impact on hospitalizations. 

“With Omicron we’ve been seeing a little bit less death, but one of the major concerns is hospitalizations or hospitalizations beyond capacity,” Savinkina said. “There’s also costs that are associated with hospitalizations that could potentially be averted through wider scale up of vaccination.”

61.9 percent of the global population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data.