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COVID-19 vaccinations prevented 3.2 million deaths and 18.5 million hospitalizations in the United States from December 2020 through November 2022, according to a new report Tuesday from the Commonwealth Fund and Yale School of Public Health.
The report, developed from computer modeling, comes as the U.S. approaches the second anniversary of the administration of the first COVID vaccine in the country to nurse Sandra Lindsay on Dec. 14, 2020.
Cost savings from those averted medical expenses add up to $1.15 trillion in savings to the U.S. health system, according to the report by a team led by Meagan C. Fitzpatrick, PhD, with the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health at University of Maryland in Baltimore.
“Without vaccination, there would have been nearly 120 million more COVID-19 infections,” the authors write.
In the 2 years, the U.S. has administered more than 655 million doses, and 80% of the population has received at least one dose, according to the report.
Fewer Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths
Since Dec. 12, 2020, 82 million infections, 4.8 million hospitalizations, and 798,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in the U.S., according to study data.
Without vaccination, the U.S. would have had 1.5 times more infections, 3.8 times more hospitalizations, and 4.1 times more deaths, the modeling indicates.
All Variants Accounted For
The research took into account patterns of five variants, each of which have accounted for at least 3% of cases in the U.S., including Iota, Alpha, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron, in addition to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain.
“We evaluated the impact of vaccine rollout by simulating the pandemic trajectory under the counterfactual scenario without vaccination,” the authors write.
“This report highlights the basic and important fact that vaccines save lives,” says Syra Madad, DHSc, senior director of the System-wide Special Pathogens Program at NYC Health and Hospitals.
She says this study, and a study last month in JAMANetwork Open looking at New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign and its return on investment, show the campaigns “reduce the number of infections and death rates, decrease hospitalization rates, avert health care costs, and provide broader economic benefit such as maintaining a healthier and more productive workforce.”
The New York report last month found that every $1 invested in vaccination yielded estimated savings of $10.19 in direct and indirect costs that would have been incurred without the vaccine.
Timothy Brewer, MD, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at UCLA, says the ranges for the estimates of savings are fairly tight, which makes them more reliable.
He says the projections are in line with recent findings of second boosters’ continued high protection against hospitalizations and deaths (compared with first boosters) in a CDC study of more than 9,500 nursing home residents.
“I think they are likely to be very reasonable numbers,” Brewer says.
He says it’s important to keep the vaccines’ measure of success focused on how many hospitalizations and deaths they prevent, the main goal of vaccines, and not on breakthrough infections.
Numbers May Underestimate Savings
Co-author Alison Galvani, PhD, founding director of the Yale Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis, says the model looks only at acute infection and may underestimate the total benefit.
Fewer infections, she noted, also mean fewer cases and accompanying costs of long COVID, for instance.
Galvani said though this study was done in the U.S., the savings and prevention of infections may inspire other countries struggling with vaccine coverage efforts and to organizations that distribute vaccines to less-resourced countries.
William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, says “the numbers are impressive in their size.”
“This is a report back to the American people,” he says, “saying, ‘We asked you to invest in this, and you did through your tax money. You know, the vaccines really work. Many of your family members, your neighbors, your friends are with you today, able to celebrate the holidays, because they were vaccinated.'”
Syra Madad, MD, senior director, System-wide Special Pathogens Program, at New York City Health and Hospitals.
JAMA Network Open: “Return on Investment of the COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign in New York City.”
Timothy Brewer, MD, professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases at David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, professor of epidemiology, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
CDC: “Effectiveness of a Second COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Dose Against Infection, Hospitalization, or Death Among Nursing Home Residents – 19 States, March 29-July 25, 2022.”
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