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Covid-19 vaccines saved at least 1.4 million lives, say WHO

Covid-19 vaccines have reduced deaths due to the pandemic by at least 57%, saving more than 1.4 million lives in Europe, most of which were older patients.

Covid-19 vaccines have reduced deaths due to the pandemic by at least 57% and have saved more than 1.4 million lives in Europe, most of which were older patients, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO/Europe study showed that mortality was reduced by 57% in those aged 70–79 and by 54% in 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.

WHO said that the Covid-19 death toll in the region, currently at 2.5 million, might be as high as 4 million without the vaccines and the first vaccine booster alone saved 700 000 lives.

Covid-19 vaccines saved most lives during Omicron period

Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said: “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.”

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 UK.

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.

Dr Kluge added: “Covid-19 hasn’t gone away. We have merely learned to live with it. 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.”

Undervaccination leads to more severe Covid outcomes

A Lancet study this week also found that rates of undervaccination against Covid-19 ranged from 32·8% to 49·8% across the four UK nations in summer, 2022 and this was associated with an elevated risk of severe Covid-19 outcomes.

The study found that between June and September 2022, the percentage of people not fully vaccinated against Covid was:

  • 49.8% in Northern Ireland
  • 45.7% in England
  • 34% in Scotland
  • 32.8% Wales.

With about 40,000 severe hospital admissions related to Covid during that summer, the research estimates that more than 7,000 – 17% – would have been avoided if everyone had taken up the offer of the vaccine and booster doses for which they were eligible.

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