(HealthDay News) — During the first year of COVID-19 vaccination, vaccines prevented 19.8 million deaths, using excess death as an estimate of the true extent of the pandemic, according to a study published online June 23 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Oliver J. Watson, Ph.D., from Imperial College London, and colleagues quantified the global impact of the first year of COVID-19 vaccination programs by estimating the additional lives lost if no vaccines had been distributed. The additional deaths that would have been averted had the vaccination coverage targets of 20 percent set by COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) and 40 percent set by the World Health Organization been met were estimated.

The researchers estimated that between Dec. 8, 2020, and Dec. 8, 2021, vaccinations prevented 14.4 million deaths from COVID-19 in 185 countries and territories. Using excess death as an estimate of the true extent of the pandemic, this estimate rose to 19.8 million deaths from COVID-19 averted, representing a 63 percent global reduction in total deaths during the first year of vaccination. An additional 45 percent of deaths could have been averted in low-income countries had the 20 percent vaccination coverage target set by COVAX been met by each country; had the 40 percent target set by the WHO been met by each country by the end of 2021, an additional 111 percent of deaths could have been averted.

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“More lives could have been saved if vaccines had been distributed more rapidly to many parts of the world and if vaccine uptake could have been strengthened worldwide,” the authors write.

One author disclosed financial ties to GlaxoSmithKline.

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