The estimates based on excess deaths from 185 countries and territories showed that globally 19.8 million out of a potential 31.4 million Covid-19 fatalities were prevented in the first year of the vaccination programme.
A further 599,300 lives could have been saved if the World Health Organization‘s target of vaccinating 40 per cent of the population in each country with two or more doses by the end of 2021 had been met.
“Our findings show that millions of lives have likely been saved by making vaccines available to people everywhere, regardless of their wealth. However, more could have been done. If the targets set out by the WHO had been achieved, we estimate that roughly 1 in 5 of the estimated lives lost due to Covid-19 in low-income countries could have been prevented,” said lead author Dr Oliver Watson, from Imperial College London.
Since the first Covid-19 vaccine was administered outside of a clinical trial setting on December 8, 2020, almost two thirds of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine (66 per cent).
Despite the incredible speed of the vaccine roll-out worldwide, more than 3.5 million Covid deaths have been reported.
However, the team found that, based on officially recorded Covid deaths, an estimated 18.1 million deaths would have occurred during the study period if vaccinations had not been implemented.
The Covid-19 Vaccine Access initiative (COVAX) has facilitated access to affordable vaccines for lower income countries to try to reduce inequalities, with an initial target of giving two vaccine doses to 20 per cent of the population in countries covered by the commitment by the end of 2021.
The WHO expanded this target by setting a global strategy to fully vaccinate 70 per cent of the world’s population by mid-2022, with an interim target of vaccinating 40 per cent of the population of all countries by the end of 2021.
“Ensuring fair access to vaccines is crucial, but requires more than just donating vaccines. Improvements in vaccine distribution and infrastructure, as well as coordinated efforts to combat vaccine misinformation and improve vaccine demand, are needed. Only then can we ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from these life-saving technologies,” said Prof Azra Ghani, Chair in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial.