COVID-19 vaccinations have saved more than 1.4 million lives in the WHO European Region, a new study finds
Since their introduction in December 2020, COVID-19 vaccines have reduced deaths due to the pandemic by at least 57%, saving more than 1.4 million lives in the WHO European Region. Most of those saved were aged 60 or older, the group at highest risk of severe illness and death from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The first vaccine booster alone saved 700 000 lives.
These are among the findings of a new WHO/Europe study revealing that today’s known COVID-19 death toll in the Region, currently at 2.5 million, might be as high as 4 million without the vaccines.
“We have constantly stressed the importance of the COVID-19 vaccines, particularly for older people and the most vulnerable. This study documents the result of countries implementing that advice. The evidence is irrefutable,” said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Region, covering 53 Member States across Europe and central Asia, has seen more than 277 million confirmed cases and over 2.5 million recorded deaths.
The power of vaccines
“Today, there are more than 1.4 million people in our Region – most of them elderly – enjoying life with their loved ones because they took the vital decision to be vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s nearly 1.5 million people who can play with their grandchildren, walk the dog, attend dance classes, volunteer and be active members of their communities.
This is the power of vaccines,” Dr Kluge emphasized.
The report reveals a 57% reduction in mortality among those aged 70–79 and a 54% decrease in deaths among those aged 60–69. Mortality was 52% lower in the 50–59 age group. The over-80 age group benefited the most from vaccination, with a 62% reduction in mortality.
Among those aged 25 to 49, receiving a second vaccine dose resulted in a 48% reduction in mortality, though the uptake of vaccines for the second and third boosters was just 5% in this group. In other words, even in this group, without vaccination the number of deaths would have been almost double.
Mortality in countries reduced by up to 75%
The WHO/Europe study reveals that COVID-19 vaccination saved most lives during the period when the Omicron variant was dominant, from December 2021 to April 2023.
In terms of impact on mortality in the Region as a whole, Israel saw the biggest benefits for all age groups with a 75% reduction, followed by Malta and Iceland with a 72% and 71% reduction, respectively.
Broken down by age group, those aged 80 and older once again saw the most significant benefits from COVID-19 vaccination, with a reduction in mortality of 70% in Malta and 71% in the United Kingdom.
Countries that implemented early vaccination programmes covering large parts of the population – such as Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Malta, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – saw the greatest benefit in terms of the number of lives saved overall through vaccination.
Learning to live with COVID-19
As winter intensifies in the northern hemisphere, cases of COVID-19 are once again on the rise, as are illnesses from other respiratory viruses including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza.
“COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. We have merely learned to live with it,” Dr Kluge said. “Much of society has acquired some level of immunity, either through vaccination, infection or both. Most of us are capable of assessing our own level of risk and our risk to others. And if we get sick with signs of COVID-19 or flu, most of us know it’s best to stay at home and away from others.”
WHO/Europe’s report underlines the position of the European Technical Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (ETAGE), which has consistently advised Member States to ensure that all eligible people are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations in line with national COVID-19 vaccination policies.
Among the report’s sources are weekly counts of COVID-19 deaths and vaccine doses administered per age group, reported by 34 out of 53 Member States, areas and territories in the Region to the European Surveillance System (TESSy) between 2020 and March 2023.
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